NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans City Council has joined together to voice concerns on the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO)’s proposed rate hike. SWBNO officials discussed a possible rate increase with the City Council’s SWBNO Billing Advisory Committee on Wednesday. This proposal comes as the number of disputed bills has skyrocketed.
“The people of this city want better efficiencies and services from the SWB,” said Council President Helena Moreno. “For improved efficiencies, the Council has directed a merger of drainage into one department instead of split between the City and SWB, yet that has not happened. Also, issues of billing errors continue to persist leading the Council to pass an ordinance prohibiting any customer from being sent to collections or disconnected if their account is in dispute. Billing issues and finally consolidating drainage for efficiencies will lead to better outcomes, and until that’s achieved, it’s premature to raise rates.”
“Outrageously high and error-ridden bills are the most common product our Sewerage and Water Board provides to New Orleans families,” said Council Vice President JP Morrell. “Since 2016, we’ve heard that Automated Metering (AMI) was the solution and that solution was ‘imminent.’ Six years later, the problems persist and the administration’s solution is to increase the rates. I will stand with the New Orleans families who fight their erroneous bills and will oppose *any* SWB rate hike until the billing system is fixed and public confidence is restored in SWB management.”
“I will not support sewer and water rate increases,” said District A Councilmember Joe Giarrusso. “I am not going to be painted into a political corner because SWBNO has difficulties managing its money. The 10-year sewer and water rate increases approved in 2013 were supposed to generate $583 million. SWBNO has received several low-interest loans from the federal government. According to their last Council report, they are owed $150 million in past due accounts. SWBNO is saving at least $7-$9 million with the construction of the substation. And, their billing system has been broken for six years, and it needs to be fixed.”
“The burden should not be shifted to residents to cover the cost of Sewerage and Water Board’s inconsistencies,” said District B Councilmember Lesli Harris.
“I recognize an upgrade to the Sewerage and Water Board infrastructure is likely needed but with so many unresolved questions about unreasonably high water bills, right now may not be the best time to ask citizens of New Orleans for a rate increase,” said District C Councilmember Freddie King III.
“The Sewerage and Water Board is advised that this is a very tough time to approach residents of New Orleans for an increase in the fees that we pay for services,” said District D Councilmember Eugene Green. “There are still significant problems with visible leaks on some streets, at some fire hydrants, and also at some residences, despite the widespread usage of 311 calls and notices from residents, their elected representatives, and neighborhood associations. Inconsistencies with reading meters and billing remain, despite promises of more efficient Automated Metering, which has yet to be introduced to many residents. Residents are also faced with recent increasing electric utility costs, and well-documented increases in insurance costs, and will in 2023 see increased tax bills due to investments that residents have chosen to make in early childhood education (which is good). An increase in Sewerage and Water Board rates and fees in the midst of these challenging times is not something that I, a representative of residents, can support at this time. The Sewerage and Water Board leadership is strongly encouraged to engage the residents of our city - the ratepayers - in ways that it has not done before, with multiple meetings in neighborhoods, through sharing of info through the media, in focus groups, through mailed surveys, and in other ways to be in tune with what the residents and ratepayers want and need before they might support such a proposal.”
“Timing in life, timing in business, timing in politics means everything,” said District E Councilmember Oliver M. Thomas, Jr. “Currently, for the people I represent it is not good timing.”
You can watch the SWBNO Billing Advisory Committee meeting at this link.