- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Benjamin Franklin, meet Portland, Oregon.

Beginning July 1, Portland utility customers will pay upwards of $100 a month for water, sewer and stormwater services - surpassing an arbitrary yet significant milestone.

The combined utility bill for a typical customer will reach $103.63, up 4.5 percent from the current $99.21.

Portland’s rising utility rates had been a political flashpoint in recent years. But the drama has largely subsided, thanks to annual bill hikes no larger than 5 percent and elimination of tangential projects that angered ratepayers and prompted a long legal fight.

“While no one likes to pay more for the utilities, including me, I am confident we are providing good value with what we’re charging people, and we’re on a path to stabilizing rates well into the future,” said Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services.

For the first time in recent memory, Portland’s water bill is going up by more than the sewer and stormwater portion.

Water rates are climbing 7 percent, taking the monthly charge to $33.83 - $2.22 more than the current bill. Sewer and stormwater bills will increase 3.3 percent, with a monthly charge rising to $69.80 - $2.20 higher than current levels.

A typical customer uses 500 cubic feet of water per month, according to the city, with water use a proxy for sewer charges.

Concern over rising utility charges peaked in 2012, under the former administrations of Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard. Mayor Charlie Hales ran for election that year pledging “lower water and sewer rates” and assigned Portland’s utilities to Fish.

Since then, the typical bill has risen from $86.22 to $103.63, a 20 percent hike.

Fish said Portland’s investment in the $1.4 billion Big Pipe project drove up sewer costs earlier than in other cities across the country. Prices elsewhere will rise as more jurisdictions complete expensive projects, similar to Portland, to prevent sewer discharges in waterways, Fish said.

It’s now time for Portland to spend more to improve its water system, Fish said, including new reservoirs at Washington Park and a pipeline carrying water underneath the Willamette River.

Fish said he knows bills have risen faster than inflation. But Fish, who seems unlikely to keep both utilities under a new mayor in 2017, maintains that ratepayers are receiving a “good value.”

“I remain confident that we can keep the combined rate increases below 5 percent,” he said.

The City Council is set to review the hikes Wednesday, with a vote the following week.

___

Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, https://www.oregonlive.com

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