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BGR: Sewerage and Water Board needs more cash, fewer politicians

The beleaguered Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans needs the power to increase water and sewerage rates annually and fewer politicians controlling its activity in order to aptly tackle billions of dollars in city infrastructure improvements, according to a report the Bureau of Governmental Research released today.

The report focuses on the role the New Orleans City Council and other elected officials have played as the agency has faced revenue and governance challenges. BGR is a nonprofit research organization that monitors public policy-making and the use of public monies in the greater New Orleans area.

“The Sewerage & Water Board has had the responsibility for maintaining sewer, water and drainage systems, but not the powers to raise revenue to execute that responsibility,” BGR Chairman Sterling Scott Willis said in a statement. “It’s time to change that and take the opportunity to clean up other governance problems that have been holding the board back for so many years.”

The City Council has the power to raise revenues to support S&WB activity but has stalled or avoided rate increases despite the agency’s needs, the report noted. The report added that elected officials governing the S&WB have historically allowed politics to hinder the decision-making process at the agency.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu now serves as president of the board. The board also includes Councilwoman at-large Jackie Clarkson, District B Councilwoman Stacy Head and District E Councilman Jon Johnson.

The report suggests removing all elected officials from the board and giving the S&WB authority to increase water and sewerage rates by an indexed amount annually.

Other suggestions within the report include:

  • developing formal processes to keep the City Council informed of S&WB performance and needs and to review specific funding requests;
  • developing ample funding source for drainage work and consolidating responsibility for that work in the S&WB; and
  • reducing the size of the agency’s board, improving oversight of board performance and qualifications and restricting its role in contracting decisions.

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