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Thursday, December 8, 2011

All that news that isn't happening

Today's Trib puts an odd spin on the newly filed lawsuit charging the Portland water and sewer bureaus with illegal expenditures of ratepayer revenues. The paper declares that in addition to the projects actually challenged in the litigation, one could also complain about the subsidies given to low-income water and sewer customers, and about the utility fees that the city's general fund charges the water and sewer operations.

That's all interesting, but the folks who have stood up and sued the city have apparently decided not to quibble about those. And they would probably have good reasons for such a decision. The low-income subsidies are not real expenditures of money -- they're just price discrimination in favor of the poor. And if the court struck them down, Portland voters would reinstate them in an instant.

As for the utility fee, of course it's ridiculous -- the city is basically charging itself, moving money from one pocket to another. Any label put on that sort of intramural transfer of funds is a bit of a joke. But tracing where the fee goes once it hits the city's general fund would be quite a rat's nest, and it might tend to distract a judge or jury.

So let's discuss the lawsuit in terms of what it's clearly about -- the laundry list of abuses set forth here. It's almost as if the Trib is trying to derail the case by talking around the basic issues. Maybe that's because it was pretty much the last media outlet in town with the story of the actual court filing.

Comments (9)

Actually I think the lawsuit covers everything.

It says the list "...include, but not necessarily limited to,..." and asks that the court order full review or appoint an independent auditor.

There would be nothing stopping the independent auditor from delving into the utility fee. But there is certainly no reason to bring it up specifically in the law suit, it would just be a distraction from what is obvious abuse.

The "utility license fee" is actually an intriguing target. At 7.5% of my water bill, I'd definitely be curious to figure out if that is legal. If it's just flowing into the general fund, then I'm sure none of it is being used for providing water and sewer service.

As far as assistance to low-income users, I think one could argue that it is a “mission critical service”. If those users would struggle to keep their water service otherwise.

It does sound as though the Trib is trying to influence public opinion against the lawsuit.

If it's just flowing into the general fund, then I'm sure none of it is being used for providing water and sewer service.

No, some of it is used for general administrative overhead that benefits the water and sewer bureaus, among others. As I say, it's a rat's nest.

l. Utility relocation costs (normally paid for by project sponsors) for Street Car and light rail projects.

Why should our water rates end up facilitating street car and light rail projects? How much "underground piping, etc" needs to be done on these projects and how much has it all cost?

Looks like another public paying for private partnership deal!

"some of it is used for general administrative overhead that benefits the water and sewer bureaus, among others."

I guess so. But water and sewer fees are the city's cash cow. In practice, I suspect that money only flows one way.

I completely agree, but this is a lawsuit. The lawyer is going with his best winning legal arguments.

I wish the suit had at least named Randy Leonard specifically as a defendant, if only symbolically (I assume he's protected from personal liability by some sort of "sovereign immunity" while in office). He was the commissioner in charge of the Water Bureau when several of the questionable expenditures and transfers were approved, and he's boasted that he'd be more than happy to do it again. But as has been said, leaving individuals off must be a deliberate legal and/or political strategy.

As for the Tribune, I think their behavior is more of a "wait for me guys!" catching up to the rest of the pack and sniffing far afield of the well-trod main path in hopes of finding something else to demonstrate their relevance.

This is very disappointing about the Trib.

In the past, I feel the Trib has reported local things with compassion and detail, including the plastic reservoir-cover fiasco.

Having sat through last-minute, emergency contracts involving The Water Bureau, I am hoping there is not a connection between this way of business in The Water Bureau and un-objective reporting in the Trib.

We will have to depend on those neighborhood papers which are brave enough to report on this if the bigger papers are compromised.

Living costs pertain to homelessness. Maybe Street Roots is going to have to report on these things.

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