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By Janie Har May 4, 2012

Is Amanda Fritz saving water ratepayers $6 million every year?

Portland city Commissioner Amanda Fritz is running for re-election as a penny-pincher who has saved residents and ratepayers millions of dollars. Specifically, Fritz says in her first television commercial via a voice-over that "she saved ratepayers $6 million a year in reduced water rate tax hikes."

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That she is "saving ratepayers $6 million a year" is included in the Voters’ Pamphlet as well and on her campaign website, where she writes: "That vote decreased the rate increase in 2010 by over 6 percent, saving ratepayers $6 million in 2010-11 and each year thereafter." In The Oregonian’s Voter Guide, she writes she "saved ratepayers $6 million per year starting 2009."   

PolitiFact Oregon knows from a previous fact check that Fritz saved ratepayers $6 million in 2010-11. (It is inaccurate of Fritz to claim the savings started in 2009, but we’ll let that go. We have bigger fish to fry.) The question we have is whether it’s accurate to claim the savings into the future, which is what Fritz says. We’ll explain.

Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, the black-hearted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the fair City of Portland (and other municipalities) to protect drinking water from terrorists and cryptosporidium. Portland officials objected, claiming the city had the best drinking water in the world.

But their pleas fell on indifferent ears in Washington, D.C., and City Hall decided in 2009 to build a treatment plant to guard against cryptosporidium, an evil parasite that can make people very sick.

In all seriousness, with the feds breathing down their necks, Water Bureau officials recommended the council approve a $385 million direct filtration system. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, however, argued for a cheaper $100 million system that would zap cryptosporidium with ultraviolet rays.

We ruled Mostly True her 2011 statement that she persuaded City Council to save water ratepayers $500 million, because she did change the minds of commissioners ready to approve the more expensive system. (We knocked the ruling down from True because of details on construction costs)

That’s all fine and good. Except that in March of this year, the state, with authority from the feds, told the city it would not have to build a treatment system at all.

Despite the fact that we no longer have to build a plant, Fritz argues she can claim a $6 million savings every year into the future because she was responsible for lowering the baseline to start. "The savings are carried over year after year," she wrote in an email, "because the six percent wasn't added to the rate."

We turned to David Hasson, the water bureau’s finance director. He said at most, she could have claimed the savings for at least a generation, had we built the UV treatment system. "Of course it is all hypothetical, because we didn't build either one," he said.

And that’s the point.

We’re not building a system. And Fritz had nothing to do with that decision.

We give her credit for steering us to a less expensive option in 2009 and saving us money from 2010 through June 2012. But it stops there. Fritz cannot continue to claim credit for saving ratepayers money on something that they’re not buying.

The statement is inaccurate. We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

Emails from Amanda Fritz, April 23, May 2, 2012
Interview with and emails from David Hasson, Finance Director, Portland Water Bureau, April 23-24, 26, 2012
PolitiFact Oregon, "Did Amanda Fritz persuade the Portland City Council to save water ratepayers $500 million?" Oct. 11, 2011
The Oregonian, "Portland leaders cheer decision to let city avoid treating Bull Run water, saving ratepayers millions," Nov. 29, 2011
The Oregonian, "Portland wins variance, won't have to build costly Bull Run treatment plant," March 14, 2012
City of Portland, "Water Bureau FY 2012-13 Requested Budget Five-Year Financial Plan, Five Year Capital Improvement Plan, Hydro Division," Jan. 30, 2012
City of Portland, "Portland Water Bureau - Council Handouts: Rate Increase Request," March 14, 2011
City of Portland, "Portland Water Bureau Rates Summary," Jan. 11, 2012

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