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Portland swept in most recent ratepayer case ruling

Portland went 0-2 Friday in the most recent round of the long-running legal fight over whether the City Council misspent water and sewer ratepayer funds.

In the most recent of many Multnomah County Circuit Court hearings in the case, Judge Stephen Bushong ruled the Water Bureau should not have spent at least $3 million rehabilitating Dodge Park outside the city limits and converting seven water tanks to so-called hyrdo parks. The exact costs of the projects will be determined at a later hearing.

“The court’s decision today lays the foundation for the recovery of over $3 million spent by the City Council from the ratepayer’s dedicated water fund on programs that had nothing to do with the furnishing of water to city water users," says John DiLorenzo, the attorney representing several water and sewer ratepayers. "The $2 million spent on Dodge Park including its boat ramp, amphitheater, fishing areas, campgrounds, showers, and meeting halls with river views and the $1 million spent on dog stations, and park amenities for hydro parks had nothing to do with pipes, pumping stations or water system facilities necessary to serve water customers. These dollars were spent on park initiatives and pursued because the council thought it had access to 'free money' from its ratepayers to spend on whatever it desired."

Bushong has ruled that water and sewer bureau spending should be "reasonably related" to their primary mission of providing water and sewer services. Bushong has previously ruled ratepayer funds should not have been spent on such programs as public campaign financing and public toilets, but could be spent to purchase an undeveloped portion of the River View Cemetery for stormwater management.

The City Attorney's Office argues the council is authorized by the City Code to make those decisions and plans to appeal the ruling when the case is concluded.

"The City is disappointed by the judge’s ruling on the issue of maintaining hydroparks and upkeep of Dodge Park. We will continue to defend the City’s right to manage water system property to serve the public interest," City Attorney Tracy Reeve said of the Dec. 4 rulings.

Still to come is a challenge to approximately $56 million the Bureau of Environmental Services has spent defending the city against possible charges for cleaning up the Superfund site declared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Portland harbor. The suit claims BES did not cause all of the city's share of the EPA-determined pollution in the harbor, and cannot legally loan ratepayer funds to other potentially liable city agencies to cover their possible expenses.