Between Mardi Gras and keeping tabs on the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB), February and March were busy months in the District A office.
Our March Public Works Committee meeting was entirely focused on the budget, finances, and personnel at the S&WB. At that meeting we learned that the utility has been working to increase the number of meters S&WB staff actually read from about 50% to about 80%. In recent years, the S&WB had such short staff that roughly half of the meters weren’t read in any given month. High rates of estimated water usage and a problematic estimation algorithm led to the widespread billing issues most New Orleanians have experienced in recent years and have contributed to the utility’s budget shortfalls. We learned in that meeting that around $134 Million has gone uncollected by the S&WB in the past two years. We are waiting to hear back from the S&WB about how much of that figure is due to water that is unbilled for schools and other public entities, how much is from customers not paying their bills, and how much is from inflated bills. I am hopeful that with stable leadership, improvements in staffing levels, and standardized estimation amounts, the S&WB can begin to rebuild its reputation with New Orleanians.
We also held the first meeting of the Quality of Life committee in March. I created this committee because blight, illegal dumping, trash, and high grass affect every neighborhood in this city. I hear daily from constituents about these issues and more, and this committee will give me and my fellow district Councilmembers an opportunity to address them with a holistic city-wide focus. At our first meeting, we discussed the homeless encampments under the expressway and heard from local agencies about the services they provide to the homeless population in New Orleans. Tulane and Loyola Universities also updated the committee about their efforts to help students living around campus be more considerate of their neighbors and to keep their property clear of trash, particularly at the beginning and end of semesters and during Mardi Gras. The next meeting scheduled for May 2 will focus on blight and will be led by District E Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen.
Another issue my office receives frequent calls about is the Regional Transit Authority’s (RTA) Canal Streetcar Improvement Analysis. The lack of public information about the RTA’s plan to implement a six-month “pilot” on Canal Street caused a lot of confusion and concern so, in response, during the March Transportation Committee meeting, I solicited three commitments from RTA leadership:
- RTA has pressed the “pause button” on this project until September.
- RTA has not requested and the Department of Public Works has not issued any permits to close off streets.
- RTA will engage stakeholders and neighborhood associations in the next couple of months about their plans.
I continue to meet with leadership at the Department of Public Works to advocate for a more rational approach to FEMA-funded street repairs.
Finally, we learned through media reports, along with the public, that the city changed the threshold for tickets to be issued by traffic cameras without telling the public first. I have asked the administration for more information about why this decision was not communicated to the public or the council ahead of time.
My staff and I work every day to find solutions to the big and small challenges facing residents. Please continue to call, email, and speak up at neighborhood meetings to keep us informed of what is important to you and your family. My office number is 658-1010 and email is Joseph.Giarrusso@nola.gov . You can also follow our work on Facebook and Twitter @cmgiarrusso.