PortlandOnline

POL Government Elected Officials Commissioner Nick Fish
Reforming our Utilities - May 21, 2014

Yesterday, Portland voters rejected a proposed Water District.  But during the campaign they sent City Hall a very clear message.  They expect us to continue to reform our Water and Sewer utilities.

 

Portlanders want us to stabilize rates, spend ratepayer dollars wisely, and strengthen transparency and accountability.  

 

Last June, the Mayor asked me to lead the Bureau of Environmental Services and Portland Water Bureau. I have worked hard every day to rebuild public trust in our utilities.

 

Working with our community partners, we launched an ambitious reform agenda:

  • Sold the Water House and put the proceeds in the Water Bureau’s Rate Stabilization Account.
  • Directed 2.5% operating cuts in both bureaus to reduce rate increases next year.
     
  • Invited the Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon to serve as an outside, independent advocate for our residential ratepayers.
     
  • Launched a new monthly billing option to help Portlanders manage their utility costs.
     
  • Implemented a new surplus property disposal policy for the utility bureaus to strengthen public notice and involvement.
     
  • Held the City’s first-ever Rate Review Hearing, an opportunity for the public to learn about the utility bureaus’ budgets, rate setting practices, and operations.
     
  • Held the first City Council Work Session on both utility bureaus’ Capital Improvement Plans, helping Council better understand how large infrastructure projects are developed and funded, and how those projects affect rates.
     
  • Set a stricter requirement for bringing contracts to Council, ensuring that decisions with large financial impacts are considered and discussed by the Council before they are approved.
     
  • Expanded efforts to educate the public on the cost-savings of combining Green and Grey infrastructure to replace aging pipes.
     
  • Asked our elected Auditor to audit the construction of a BES office building at the Columbia Waste Water Treatment Plant, and provide Council with recommendations on how to provide better oversight of construction projects.

And we are just getting started.

 

Over the past year, a number of groups – including the City Club of Portland and the Portland Business Alliance – have weighed in with thoughtful ideas and suggestions for further reform.

 

Mayor Hales and I have pledged to convene a Blue Ribbon Utility Oversight Commission, charged with evaluating reform proposals.  We will kick off that process soon and expect the Commission to bring its findings and recommendations to Council in the fall.

 

Portlanders are justifiably proud of the Bull Run Watershed, the quality of our drinking water, and our legacy of environmental stewardship. It is an honor to serve as Commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Water Bureau, and to work with so many talented and dedicated professionals. I am committed to ensuring that future generations continue to enjoy the benefits of our public utilities.