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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Billboard sponsor unidentified

Message targets mayor, council on water rates

One of five billboards criticizing Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and the City Council and paid for by an anonymous person is in a parking lot at the corner of Third Avenue and Stevens Street. (Dan Pelle)
One of five billboards criticizing Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and the City Council and paid for by an anonymous person is in a parking lot at the corner of Third Avenue and Stevens Street. (Dan Pelle)

The person who paid for five billboards criticizing the Spokane City Council and Mayor Mary Verner for their decisions on water rates plans to remain anonymous.

Five billboards were erected about a week ago and will stay up through October, said Tom Townsend, general manager of Emerald Outdoor Advertising.

Townsend said the ads were not sponsored by Emerald, which had a widely publicized fight with the mayor in 2009 when she planned to end bus bench advertising.

“We’re just the messenger,” he said.

Townsend also said the man who bought the ads is not related to the campaign of Verner’s challenger, David Condon, or anyone else running for office.

“It’s not against anybody,” he said. “It’s just somebody giving his opinion on a matter.”

City Councilman Richard Rush, however, questioned how the billboards could be unrelated to the election. They call out the mayor and council the month before Election Day, he noted.

Rush laughed when told the purchaser did not plan to reveal himself. “There’s some courage for you,” he said.

Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission, said as long as the ads are not sponsored by a campaign, they would not have to be reported to the commission unless the total cost was at least $5,000 for each politician mentioned. Because it mentioned the mayor and City Council, the total cost of the campaign would have to reach $40,000.

Townsend said the campaign cost less than $5,000.

The billboards make a misleading statement: “The Mayor & City Council doubled/tripled our water rates.”

The council last year restructured water rates in a way that lowers bills for those who use less water and increases them for those who use a lot. Officials estimated the change will lower rates over the course of the year for more than half of customers. Officials say that in the last billing cycle, which included July and August, only 3 percent of water users used enough water to have experienced at least a doubling of their summer water bill. Over the course of the year, officials say less than 1 percent of users will pay twice as much or more under the new system.

City water customers use an average of about 10,000 gallons of water every two months in the winter and about 44,000 gallons every two months in the summer. In order for a two-month water bill to double, a customer has to use about 100,000 gallons. In order for it to triple, the user would have to use about 200,000 gallons.

Starting Jan. 1, water consumption rates will rise 16 percent and base rates will increase by about 2 percent, under an increase approved by the City Council last month. Verner has said she will try to push through a new water rate plan before next year.

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