New Orleans City Council votes to increase water rates - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

New Orleans City Council votes to increase water rates

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New Orleans, La.- Homeowners in New Orleans will soon see their water bills climb after the city council gave the OK for the Sewerage and Water Board to raise rates. The vote comes after a contentious few days of political jabs between Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Council President Stacy Head over the issue.

The New Orleans City Council took several hours Thursday to consider the rate hike. Passing it meant a 10 percent increase on resident's water bills each year, for the next eight years. But without it, some, including Mayor Landrieu, said the city's sewerage and water system, would fail. "This city is in a position of danger right now. The power plant at the Sewerage and Water Board has broken five times since Katrina. We are bleeding 40 percent of our water, every day," Landrieu said.

In a 5 to 2 vote, with only Council President Stacy Head and Councilman Ernest Charbonnet opposing, the vote passed. Both Head and Charbonnet hoped to defer the vote, seeking more information on the proposal.

Charbonnet said before the council Thursday, "Before we can pass something as important as this, that's going to affect residents, businesses large and small, I believe we have to have the confidence and the trust of the people. Judging from the calls I've had at my office and at my home, I don't believe we have that."

A handful of residents showed up to also voice concerns over the rate hike. One homeowner told the council, "I have no problem paying for things when it is fair, but to do this and just push it down the citizens of New Orleans throat, is not fair."

But in the end, the council voted that the rate increase is needed. Councilwoman Kristin Palmer commented, "Nobody wants to pay for this and its going to be a tough vote but quite frankly, I also have to look at the data of what is important to my constituency and that's a safe water system."

Most of the $583 million garnered from the rate increase will go towards paying off old Sewerage and Water Board debt. But it will also help pay for new infrastructure.

Sewerage and Water Board President Pro-Tem Ray Manning explained, "The water lines are typically on the sides of the streets and so you'll see complete streets being re-done." 

And with the rate increase, comes new responsibility for the city council...who will have an oversight role over the Sewerage and Water Board.

"We will be holding regular meetings with the Sewerage and Water Board to go over those lists they've provided us the last few days, to make sure those projects are in fact getting done," said Stacy Head.

Head adds, it's important that the council makes sure the millions of dollars collected, actually goes where it's supposed to.  

The rate increase will take effect January 1st. Manning says the agency will look at additional ways to help those on fixed incomes, and the elderly, pay for the increases on their water bills.

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