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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 2, 2008 8:09 AM. The previous post in this blog was A giant step backward in solving the financial crisis. The next post in this blog is Now she's gone. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Opie Era is fading into memory

Remember when then-Commissioner Erik Sten was going to put the City of Portland a jillion dollars in debt to go buy Portland General Electric, and the Enron guys who owned PGE laughed him out of their New York office? Good times. And as part of the show, the city's water customers were told to make their checks out to "Portland Utilities," in anticipation of the expansion of the Great Opie Empire.

Well, our latest water bill, which is always big enough to make us nearly pass out, contained a subtle change from last quarter's:

Did Sten ever get a job after suddenly and mysteriously quitting the City Council and selling his West Hills house, which he owned for only a short time? How's he eating?

Comments (14)

I heard he's a computer consultant / financial adviser.

Was he a participant in the liar-loan induced financial mess we are in? I guess we'll never find out.

I definitely agree about the huge water bill... there's no incentive to save water or anything! The smallest portion of the bill is the metered water; it's all the other fees and the base rate that make up most of the bill.

If they were really trying to "save the environment" and all that crud, they would figure out ways for people to reduce the bill or exempt themselves from fees for doing measurably good things.

Funny thing is, 5 years ago I lived in California and watered my whole garden through 100 degree, rain-less summers for about half as much.

Thank heaven we're retiring in 15 months and will be leaving this nonsense behind. Over 60% of mu most recent water bill consisted of waste water and sewer charges. This is crazy! If I ever see you in person Sten, it won't be a pleasant encounter!

"there's no incentive to save water or anything! "

I'd re-think - They base your sewer charge on how much water you use.

Steve~

My understanding of the bill is that the only adjustable part that goes down is the metered water (after the minimum base charge). I don't think they meter the waste water.

If what you're saying is correct and the sewer is metered, then I'd hate to think what the bill would be if we didn't use the "if it's yellow, let it mellow..." technique.

Hmmm... maybe you've given me the answer! I'll tell everyone to use non-toxic soap, divert all the gray-water we use to the garden, and use a composting toilet!

Some how I don't think they'd stop billing us for sewer. Rather, they'd notice the discrepancy between the water we purchase and the water we throw away and we'd get a visit from a code violations inspector.

We pay top dollar for sewer because we've got the best sewer system in the world. We even have a $2 billion big pipe. It's Portland's iconic postcard.

I've heard rumors that our sewer system is so good that you can even dump your old motor oil down the drain and crystal clear tap water will emerge from the other end.

And, everyone knows ... "I only drink tap water."

"I don't think they meter the waste water."

You have a base amt for water and once you go above x gal, they charge you per gal. The sewer is NOT metered. If you use $10 worth of water you get billed $30 for sewer (or some ratio like that.)

"We pay top dollar for sewer because we've got the best sewer system in the world.'

We pay top dollar because we throw money at everything but sewers or roads. Then we wait until we get sewed fro dumping raw sewage and then we fix it instead of doing any reg maint. Just wait until you see the coming bill for infrastructure collapsing - like the 100-year old sewer pipes throughout town.

This is what you get when you have consensus-based politics.

Annie: If they were really trying to "save the environment" ... they would figure out ways for people to reduce the bill or exempt themselves from fees for doing measurably good things.

I get a credit on my bill for managing stormwater on site, amounting to 11.2% of the sewer charge.

The original water billing debacle was caused by trying to customize a software system to reward conservation and punish over consumption. At the same time everyone was promised a great discount for disconnecting their downspouts from the sewer system.

Of course, the software didn't work, the city lost as much as thirty million in lost revenue and the ensuing mess required that a new system be purchased at a multi million price tag. As far as I know, there still is no downspout disconnect discount, but someone can correct me if that's not the case.

Commission government made it easy to sweep the whole mess under the rug. Erik fired the head of the water bureau and took full responsibility for the mess. Vera handed the bureau to Saltzman and Sten went on to be re-elected not once, but twice.

I think it is a major victory that they have changed the remit to on the bills. I suspect if they had succeeded with PGE, the cable and phone folks would be next on the list.

A lot of us have said "make government run like a business". What they heard was "government should go into business". And pretty much wherever they have, it's been a losing proposition.

Government shouldn't be a business. Business by definition is about profit. Government shouldn't be trying to make a profit. Government should be in the "business" of providing the best possible public sector services in a cost effective manner. Sadly, Portland hasn't been doing a very good job. They are too busy trying to go into business, particularly the housing and development business.

ANother possiblity - Erik may get a gig with Vera at Gallatin. That helps since Vera still pulls Sam's strings.

Now that Merritt Paulsen has hired Gallatin expect to see stadiums at taxpayers' expense.

They don't meter waste they assume that 99.9% of what comes out of the tap goes down the drain so they charge sewer usage based on water usage. They charge winter usage amounts in the summer to take into account irrigation and car washing water that does not go into the drain. I guess they figure that you shower and flush the same in winter and summer.

We may never know what really happened to Sten. I doubt he wants to talk about it much.


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