St. Bernard studying water system

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) - St. Bernard Parish authorities have contracted with a consultant group to examine the parish's water system as the Parish Council considers a proposal to raise water and sewer rates.

Nola.comThe Times-Picayune reported parish officials have discussed raising rates by as much as 34 percent. They want Baton Rouge-based UtiliWorks to assess the system and help determine what, if any, rate increase is needed.

The rate increase has been proposed as part of an effort to help improve infrastructure in a water system that has been scrutinized since a brain-eating amoeba was found in the system last fall. UtiliWorks began examining the system this past week under a $7,500 contract and is expected to complete the assessment by the end of May.

"They will look into the cost of maintaining our water and sewer system, what the costs are for repairs to our infrastructure, and what the cost of the same services are in the surrounding metro area," said parish President Dave Peralta.

"They will not only be looking at today's costs but also the costs to run and maintain the system for the next 20 to 25 years."

Councilman Ray Lauga, who is the chairman of the council's water and sewer committee, has said the parish water and sewer department has been running at nearly a $3 million deficit and that the parish has not had a rate increase since 1997. A 34 percent rate increase likely would amount to about $10 to $15 more on the average residents' monthly water bill, according to Lauga.

For residents who use about 10,000 gallons a month, the bill would increase from $34.27 to $46.70. That increase would bring in about $1.6 million a year, which could help pay for a loan of up to $27 million that the parish is attempting to secure for water line improvements, according to Lauga.

After introducing the proposed increase during the March 5 council meeting, Lauga later asked the council to table it pending a third-party audit of the sewer and water system.

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