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July 21st, 2004 The Nose | The Nose
 

Pissin' away money at City Hall.

     
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DAN SALTZMAN, city commissioner in charge of the Water Bureau
The Nose was plenty excited to get an email last week from Sam Adams with the subject line "ratepayer rebellion."

Come to find out the message was from a City Council candidate, not a brewer, and it concerned water bills, not the ungodly cost of a beer.

Although the Nose usually doesn't bother with unsolicited emails (unless they promise to give him a "big pipe"), he read on, because the water bills in this city have long been more annoying than Dick Cheney's smirk.

Why is it that a city best known for being soggy has the second-highest water bills in nation? Turns out this Adams guy is on to something.

Here's what he says: Not only are we paying through the nose (so to speak) for water, but the system in place now gives those pointy-heads at City Hall an incentive to spend as much as they can on the so-called "Big Dig" project.

Big Dig is the $1.2 billion public-works project aimed at reducing the amount of doo-doo that ends up in the Willamette River. And the money for this project is being added to our water bills, which were already second only to Seattle's.

As Adams points out, the city gets to tack a 7.5 percent "franchise fee" onto the Big Dig that goes right into the city's general fund. That means that when city officials spend $1.2 billion of our money on fixing the sewer, they also are in line eventually to skim about $90 million in taxes.

That money doesn't show up as a line item on your monthly water and sewer bill. And it isn't earmarked for H20 or pipes or sewers or the public employees who run those things. It pays for things like subsidizing minor-league baseball and bailing out Pearl District developers.

Adams correctly calls this a "hidden tax" that is going up faster than those flaming westside apartments.

You see where this is going, don't you? City officials have given themselves another reason to spend money. The more the city pays out on the Big Dig, the more it rakes in for the general fund.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the main shovel behind the sewer upgrade, is apparently feeling the heat. He is proposing to cap the amount of the franchise fee that the general fund skims from us ratepayers at $15.5 million per year.

Nice idea, but since that's this year's haul--arrived at after years of lefty increases--anyway, it's nothing to raise a pint about.

Maybe instead he should just change the name of the "Big Dig." How about "The Big Shaft"?

 
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