And why this will not stop street flooding
By Jeff Thomas
OK, so you know the Sewerage and Water Board has problems. What you need to know is the high bills will do nothing to stop street flooding. And the fact is your water bill is gonna be really expensive from now on.
After hearing that some people have $2000 bills, you feel not bad about your $200 bill. Hearing how people randomly and suddenly got $800 monthly bills, you feel kinda’ lucky that the S&WB didn’t screw up your bill. Not everybody can just write a $2000 check to the good old S&WB.
But most people better start getting used to writing $200 checks to the S&WB. Even if your consumption has remained about the same or even dropped a little, your water bill has more than doubled over the last few years. In fact, what used to be about a $40 -$50 monthly expense is now likely over $200.00 for most people, thanks to rate hikes pushed by the previous mayor and passed by the city council. And before you could subtract out the trash portion of the bill and just pay for water and keep your services active. You no longer have that option, so sanitation and meter charges are now required meaning everybody’s bill just jumped $50 without any water use and before any rate hike.
YEP! That’s right! Before you turn on the faucet, you have a $50 bill. And with rates for usage doubling over time – PRESTO pick a bill any bill from that tall stack over there and Magic – we now have $200 a month water bills. Seriously, wasn’t it former S&WB head Cedric Grant who scolded us complaining floodsters about not recognizing the “new normal”? $200 a month water bills in NOLA is the new normal.
How’d This Happen?
Back in the good ole $40 a month water bill days, the great and magnificent Mitch Landrieu was halfway through his first term, when he pushed the first of many of his fees-based schemes onto NOLA’s residents. When I say great and magnificent, I mean generally incompetent yet bewitchingly persuasive. In this case Landrieu promised that after the rate increases, not only would we get great jobs, pumping station upgrades, new computer software, pipes replacement, and even electronic water meters but the higher rates meant a “real chance” to rid our city of much of the street troubling flooding that occurs too often. The city council passed legislation that would raise our rates 10% a year for eight(8) years. If you do basic math on an annual 10% rate increase a $40 a month bill becomes $86. For the same water. Add your trash and meter fees and taxes and your bill is over $150.00.
Why This is So Bad
So if you get behind and you suddenly have late fees and receive a fairly accurate water bill of over $1000, you might not be able to keep the water on. And if too many people can not pay these exorbitantly high bills, then the agency could lose residents to neighboring parishes that still have $40 a month water bills. Meanwhile shutting off people’s water does not necessarily produce income, which pushes the agency closer to the tipping point from which the agency suffers financial meltdown. The new high rates, that Mitch Landrieu claimed were needed to operate the agency daily, have actually reduced on hand cash as people just can’t afford to pay or move to avoid paying these bills. Further sticker shocked residents who believe their bills to be in error and were withholding payments created massive new bills that further shock the senses. Meanwhile, the agency which spent nearly $300 million of its reserves at the end of the great and magnificent Landrieu administration, is wobbling precariously. The agency must maintain 90 days of operating cash in the bank to maintain their credit worthiness with the bonding companies. If they fall short, then a cash bleed could disrupt the agency’s ability to deliver water.
If people can’t afford to pay for the water they use in their homes, then the government cannot afford to provide adequate storm water and sewer drainage to prevent flooding.
This is why the Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s successful fair share cash infusion is so important. This will stabilize the internal cash bleed for the agency. Despite this new money, people’s bills will continue to rise as rate increases are scheduled over the next 4 years.
Mayor Cantrell and the current board must use the cash they will get after voters pass the short term rental tax to fix the broken infrastructure. Landrieu was dazzlingly incompetent. And even though Mayor Cantrell is smarter, wiser and a 100 times better mayor than Landrieu, he left her such a mess that she will need all of her wits to fix this growing problem in the midst of climate change.