NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A day after it was said during the City Council’s Public Works Committee that the Sewerage and Water Board could be owed close to $140 million from customers, the agency strongly disputed that figure and said the actual amount could be much lower.
During the S&WB’s board of directors’ meeting, Executive Director Ghassan Korban gave examples of how not all water that is metered is actually billed, including water usage by the Sewerage and Water Board.
"While we meter this building, we don’t necessarily send a bill to ourselves and we don’t charge ourselves for the use of the water. That applies to many other Sewerage and Water Board facilities, that applies to many municipalities, municipal facilities, schools, prisons. That’s a larger question, in terms of whether we should be continuing to provide free water, but nonetheless, that’s a number that’s so inclusive that that really tainted, or pushed that discrepancy between what we are billing, when it fact we’re not, versus what we’re collecting,” said Korban.
Mayor Latoya Cantrell, who by law serves as president of the S&WB, addressed the over $100 million figure and said the agency is transparent with the public.
"There was no new information given yesterday at all, and even as it was reported, this was information that we have been providing to the public since day one, and I will not allow for us to be criticized for doing the right thing because we’re doing the right thing,” said Cantrell.
The $140 million amount was mentioned by Councilman Joseph Giarrusso, who is chair of the Public Works Committee, after delving into some S&WB financial information, and Korban did not dispute it at that time but stressed that it would be June before he could provide firmer numbers.
"And so, what was reported yesterday from the Public Works Committee wasn't new information. It was following up on financial stability matters, or instability matters as it relates to this utility as we began to report over seven months ago,” Cantrell stated.
Korban said the actual figure could be around $50 million but cautioned that more time is needed to confirm the amount.
"Now why we can’t, you know, unequivocally say what that number is, is because that process goes through a lot of scrutiny, a lot of auditing by independent entities to come up with the final number, but I’m here to tell you that the $134 [million] number [is] very, very way off in terms of what at the end of the day is potentially collectable, and I can tell you it’s closer to $50 million dollars and before somebody looks at the $50 million, $50 million is a lot of money, part of that money is carried from many years previous to 2018 and 2017,” said Korban.
Giarrusso was asked if the SWB’s statement a day later seemed plausible.
"I just don't know and that's part of the frustrating part about this, not just for us, but for people on the street. My phone, my email has been lit up today from people who are saying how could it be $134 million and my response to that was …we don't know that yet, so we want them to take the time. We want them to get the numbers right and we want to make sure that we are giving the right and clear picture to people and, also that Sewerage and Water Board is collecting everything that they possibly can,” said Giarrusso.
Councilwoman Helena Moreno said accurate numbers are needed sooner than later.
"All that I’m asking for is an accurate picture on the Sewerage and Water Board’s finances,” stated Moreno.
The discussion about what the S&WB may be owed comes as the mayor is pushing the tourism industry and state government to come up with money to help fund the agency’s serious infrastructure needs.
"We are asking everyone to come in and give us money - and don’t get me wrong, I do think that the Sewerage and Water Board needs money - but I think those folks who are saying they want to help us are also asking what are you doing to help yourselves?” said Moreno.