In The News › Business leaders want S&WB rate increase tied to management changes

Business leaders want S&WB rate increase tied to management changes

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
July 23, 2012

NEW ORLEANS — The Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board is proposing a ten-year, nearly $3.5 billion capital improvement plan to alleviate decades of neglect.

Neglect that manifested itself on the streets of the city just this past Friday.

“When we have the kind of rain events we had on Friday and we see this localized neighborhood flooding to the extent that’s happening because of clogged drainage basins or broken drainage pipes, that’s a wasted rate payer dollar,” said Jeff Thomas, who worked with a citizens task force to compile a playbook for how the additional money should be spent.

The board is now asking rate payers to pay more. It is proposing an 80 percent rate increase over the next five years and a new drainage fee.

The board says it does not have adequate financial resources needed to deliver reliable services in the city.

“Just fixing broken equipment that’s been broken for decades is not enough,” said Thomas. “You have to change the way you do business. You have to change the way you invest in protection and water management for the city.”

The New Orleans Business Council agrees.

“If you don’t get the oversight and the leadership right, before you go out and raise dollars, then there’s really no way to assess and make certain that the needs of the rate payers are going to be met,” said council chair Suzanne Mestayer.

The budget watchdog group Bureau of Governmental Research said with three council members on the water board, the agency is too political.

“One of the ways we’ve gotten in the trouble we’re in with all the deferred maintenance is because of the reluctance of elected officials to raise rates,” said BGR President and CEO Janet Howard.

City leaders are also hoping to draw down more federal dollars to take some of the burden off of rate payers.

They’ve identified about $250 million in hazard mitigation money from Hurricane Katrina as a possible source of funding.

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