NEW ORLEANS - On Tuesday, July 24 the leadership of the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) will appear before the Public Works Committee of the New Orleans City Council. Led by Committee Chair Joe Giarrusso, members of the committee will continue their review of the S&WB's most recent statutorily-required quarterly report.
Specifically, the committee will continue questioning the utility's meter reading and water usage estimation practices and planned customer service improvements. The committee will also ask the utility about increasing staff, operational reforms, capital improvement programs, systems in place to prevent fraud and abuse, and creating more system-wide efficiencies.
"We realize the current executive team did not make many of the decisions to be discussed at the committee meeting. However, the ratepayers are living with the implications of those decisions every day, so we need to get to the bottom of the items in the quarterly reporting. This is not a courtroom, and so this line of questioning is not meant to be adversarial. I am committed to using these meetings as a fact-finding forum and the Council's investigatory powers for identifying solutions to the challenges of the S&WB and to serve as a backstop to make any necessary improvements," said Chair Giarrusso.
In June, at the first committee meeting of the term, the S&WB reported that a shortage of meter readers and insufficient training and implementation on a new computer system are primary reasons for thousands of incorrect bills sent to customers. The utility has also announced that normal collections will resume for delinquent bills to address critical funding shortfalls. Giarrusso continued, "This council wants to be sure that the S&WB has the correct processes and resources in place to ensure that no customer that has disputed an incorrect bill during the problematic rollout of the Cogsdale system gets their water shut off."
Council President Jason R. Williams said, "Our citizens should not be spending hours on the phone or taking off valuable work time to address an erroneous S&WB bill. In addition to improving the functionality of our water and pumping infrastructure, fixing and improving the S&WB billing system is my top priority, and I will use every tool available to take action on this billing crisis."
Council Vice President Helena Moreno said, "New Orleanians must have confidence in the S&WB's ability to keep their water clean and their streets dry. I believe our mandate as a Council is to figure out not just what happened and why, but to work collaboratively with the board and the community in order to secure a safer city for the future."
The committee meeting will begin at 9:00 a.m. in the City Council Chamber at City Hall. Members of the public are encouraged to attend and provide public comment.