At today's meeting, the Interim Emergency Management and Support Team of the S&WB answered questions regarding the status of ongoing customer billing issues and its civil service hiring process. In addition, they provided a report on system operations during the 2017 hurricane season and the post-season transition plan.
Members of this team, which include former Louisiana Recovery Authority Director Paul Rainwater, were selected to provide administrative, financial and technical capacity to the Sewerage & Water Board throughout hurricane season and the months following.
The Council began by questioning the S&WB representatives about the high volume of billing errors and complaints. A systematic report compiled by Councilmember Brossett's office details more than 100 constituent complaints with overbilling in District "D" alone.
"There has to be some way to fix this problem for people without inconveniencing them," said Councilmember-At-Large Jason Williams. "How can we ask people to leave their job, to come pay a bill they don't even owe?"
District "E" Councilmember Gray said, "I think the largest issue we're seeing with constituents and these bills is not only that they have another bill to pay, but that they're not being treated as human beings by a government agency. This cannot be allowed to continue. We have to treat people with a certain level of respect and dignity."
The team addressed the Council's concerns and said that while the organization was committed to finding a solution to the many issues plaguing the S&WB, certain systemic obstacles remain.
"I don't disagree with what you're saying at all, this is unacceptable," said Rainwater. "Right now the best thing to do is instead of just case managers in the back office; the entire team will be activated to help fix the existing billing issues. Until we get some sort of systemic solution, that's the best we can do right now. We're moving as quickly as we possibly can, and we have two people here today that will be taking names and numbers to address billing discrepancies."
The S&WB is still operating under emergency conditions, according to the report. The system has been in a perpetual state of emergency for quite some time, and is still operating on an emergency basis almost daily, said Rainwater. The S&WB faced additional challenges resulting from emergency response preparations for Hurricanes Nate and Harvey, working 24/7 leading up to the event and throughout the after-action period.
Many of the pumping stations now have Wi-Fi and safety equipment, which did not previously exist. Rainwater said this made "absolutely no sense" in a 21st-century operation and attributed it to a lack of qualified leadership and management.
To read the full news release, click here.