PORTLAND -- A group called Portlanders for Water Reform submitted 50,000 signatures to the City of Portland Elections office Tuesday, in a push to qualify an initiative that would convert the water bureau into its own nonprofit.
The city is currently in charge of the water bureau, but the initiative, if passed in May, would spin the agency off into an independently public water district with its own elected seven-member board.
Water reformers have complained for years about high water rates, mismanagement and bloated spending. But city officials said putting a separate group in charge of a large bureaucracy could cause even more problems.
“We think there is a market for reform," said Kent Craford with Portlanders for Water Reform. "We think Portlanders are fed up with out-of-control water and sewer rates. They are fed up with city hall politicians spending millions and millions; tens of millions of dollars on pet projects that have nothing to do with the water and sewer system."
Water Bureau Commissioner Nick Fish believes the move lacks public support and that voters will see the merits of the current system if it were to be challenged.
“We welcome the debate and we are accountable and transparent and let's debate this on the merits," Fish said. "The early verdict is in from groups across our community, groups who say this is a bad idea. But let's have the debate."
The petition will need 30,000 valid signatures to make it onto the May ballot. City workers will spend the next few weeks to validate each signature.
The elections office said it should know by Feb. 20 if the initiative makes the cut.
(KGW reporter Ashley Korslein contributed to this report.)