In The News › New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board president calls for rate hike vote to go forward

New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board president calls for rate hike vote to go forward

By Richard Rainey
The Times-Picayune

The president pro-tem of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board said he was surprised Tuesday at City Councilwoman Stacy Head’s request to delay a final vote on major service rate hikes that could have customers’ monthly bills doubling in eight years. Ray Manning, architect, said further delays could jeopardize the board’s ability to meet its deadlines under a federal consent decree and its chances of paying off its debts on time.

“Delay is exactly what got us into this situation in the first place,” Manning said. “The time to act is now.”

Head, one of two council members who also serve on the S&WB, asked her colleagues Monday to put off voting the sewer and water rate increases that appear on the council’s Thursday agenda. Her concerns were shared by the Bureau of Governmental Research, a watchdog group that offered its own recommendations for reform of the century-old water board.

Plagued by crumbling water and sewer pipes, the S&WB spent two years discussing new rate hikes to help pay for an estimated $3.3 billion reconstruction of its infrastructure. S&WB officials have also argued that the infusion of new money is essential to continue meeting the deadlines of a 14-year-old consent decree to fix the city’s sewer system.

After two major rewrites, several public meetings and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s shepherding, the S&WB sent the latest version of the rate hikes on Nov. 14 to the City Council, which has final say. On Friday, Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson scheduled a special meeting of the council’s Budget Committee for Wednesday to discuss the rates before the council’s scheduled Thursday vote.

That irked Head and BGR. Head called for a meeting of the council’s Public Works Committee, scheduled with enough lead time for S&WB customers to attend.

“A decision of this magnitude deserves much public discussion and scrutiny,” she said. “This vote is premature, and I see no reason to rush it to conclusion in the next four days.”

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