What Should You Do with a Sewerage and Water Board Bill?

by Kenneth Cooper

I received my neighbor’s Sewerage & Water Board bill in the mail last weekend. I thought about bringing it over to her. But she may have been having a good day, so I reconsidered. I looked down at what was in my hand, a rectangular 9 ½ X 4 inch envelope, small, but possibly packed with layers of incompetence inside. I asked my wife if I should bring the neighbor her bill or let her enjoy her weekend. We walked two blocks to deliver the bill.

The Canadian company the Sewerage & Water Board bought software from to process bills in New Orleans said none of its other 200 clients are having problems processing bills. Some Sewerage & Water Board employees said the software system sucks. The Sewerage & Water Board said the software system doesn’t suck and blamed their employees instead. In internal SWB emails, managers talked about how employees just “weren’t getting it” when it came to understanding how to properly use the software. Some employees said they weren’t trained right and that’s why they’re just were not getting it. But in more internal emails, management  talked about bringing in tutors to help employees adapt. And back and forth it goes. At a City Council meeting last Monday, the Canadian company said the Sewerage & Water Board never formally told them that they were having problems processing bills. The Sewerage & Water Board responded by saying oh yes we did and then provided proof showing that oh yes they did.  The Canadian company is no longer taking calls from the press.

This may have been the first bill my neighbor has gotten in months. I wonder if I should have sold it to her. It was kind of thick to be a simple bill. Either she owed a lot of money or there was an apology letter inside, or maybe even one of those inaccurate refunds the Sewerage & Water Board has been giving out.  I got an invoice from the Sewerage & Water Board saying I owed them a $100. The only reason I knew it was from the Sewerage & Water Board was because it said so on the envelope. The invoice had no letterhead and looked like it was typed on Word.

The Canadian company said the Sewerage & Water Board is having billing problems because Sewerage and Water Board employees screwed up the algorithms the software uses to estimate bills, algorithms being used because there supposedly aren’t enough meter readers on the street. Maybe just maybe, there’d be more meter readers on the street if the Sewerage & Water Board wasn’t having so much trouble collecting its money. In a statement, the Sewerage & Water Board’s executive director said in 6 months customers can have confidence that the bills they’re receiving are accurate. 6 months. In 6 months we’ll have gone through Christmas, New Years, Mardi Gras, Easter, and will be in the midst of peak crawfish season. Until then, should we expect incompetence and inaccuracies to reign?

The late great Fred Sanford when receiving an erroneous bill once told his son, Lamont the dummy, to put the bill back in the mail. I wonder when my neighbor got hers if she wished I had done the same.

4 thoughts on “Compounding Incompetence at the S&WB”
  1. While I share your concern about ongoing incompetence at S&WBNO, this particular article doesn’t really illustrate any “compounded” incompetence on their part. Rather, it only mentions a mis-delivered S&WBNO bill. While I can’t speak for what happens on your particular block, on my block, it’s the U.S. Postal Service that delivers the mail, including S&WBNO bills. So any mis-delivery “incompetence,” if you must call it that, is a baby that more properly belongs on the Post Office’s doorstep, wouldn’t you agree?

    In so far as the S&WBNO’s ongoing issues are concerned, while they are a disturbing concern, I feel that it’s my own civic duty to do my part to make the system work as best I can. In that spirit, I PAY MY BILL, on time. Sometimes I pay under protest, but I do pay it, so long as there is running water in my pipes.

    I have also built myself a spreadsheet, and a chart, to analyse my bill and illustrate trends. It’s not hard to do. S&WBNO billing parameters and rates are listed on their web site . The charting function immediately illustrates any departures from normal consumption, which occasionally happens when S&WBNO estimates my usage and the associated bill. I would be more than happy to share my spreadsheet expertise with the rest of the community, if anyone so desires.

    Generally, I have found, based on this spreadsheet analysis, that my S&WBNO bill is accurate and correct. While I do have some quibbles about S&WBNO’s estimating practices, I have found that any inaccuracies in the billing is only a few pennies, not really worth my time or anyone else’s to address.

    Pulling back to take a larger view, rather than just presume widespread and total incompetence at S&WBNO, I will give most of their employees the presumption that they are trying to do the best they can, working under poor management, inadequate resources and training, and frequent turnover. While there well may be deadheads and layabouts on the payroll, I sense that most of their problems stem from a prolonged period of poor management and leadership, more than any other single factor. I am hopeful that under their new leadership, technically-oriented leadership, things will gradually improve. S&WBNO’s success is New Orleans’ success; their failure is our beloved city’s failure.

    We’re all in this together. We all must do what we can to make S&WBNO work. There is no other option.

  2. I agree Cindy, incompetence at best! I am being charged for water that has been turned off for repairs for months, on a vacant property with no outside faucets. SWBNO has confirmed that the water is off and can not explain why I have received a bill with an actual reading, reflecting usage. This doesn’t make sense to me or to any of the representatives I’ve spoken to. I have been informed that an investigation will be conducted and they will get back to me; in the meantime, I’m expected to pay an exorbitant bill for water I did not use. Why does this make sense? How is acceptable in the 21st century? We can’t get accurate bills, decent customer service or working pumps! But we can always rely on SWBNO to overcharge and under deliver! When will it end?

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