City Council committee talks inflated S&WB bills and catch basins

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A committee of the New Orleans City Council which focuses on public works heard complaints about inflated water bills from the Sewerage and Water Board, and some council members asked probing questions into why a now fired contractor was chosen for a multi-million dollar contract to clean city catch basins.

Tuesday afternoon the city's interim Public Works Director went before the council committee.

"Since the beginning of 2017 we have cleaned 6,197 catch basins, some of them have been done by the state, some of them have been done by the city's contractor and the remaining has been done by the city," said Dani Galloway.

Her mention of city contractor got Councilman James Gray started on a long line of questioning.

"When you say the city contractor who are you talking about?" asked Councilman Gray.

"I'm talking about the 347 that were done by RAM-J," replied Galloway.

RAM-J ended up being fired by City Hall after the state Department of Environmental Quality said the company improperly disposed of trash it collected from catch basins and did not have the amount of trucks it claimed.

"RAM-J was selected by the emergency bid procurement," Galloway stated.

"The emergency procurement? I thought we were told it went through out the regular bid process," said Gray.

"It was an emergency bid procurement process," repeated Galloway.

The Landrieu administration said an emergency declaration was in place. The lowest bidder did not get the contract.

"We had seven bidders, we did not deem the lowest bidder on that contract responsible,"said Galloway.

There is a state public bid law.

"Are you saying that we did not follow the state statute? "asked Gray.

"I am saying we did not follow the state statute…The state public bid law provided guidance in this instance on how we would select a responsible and low-bid, but we did not, nor were we required to follow the time requirements of public bid law, the notice and advertising requirements of public bid law, so to say that we were following in this instance exactly the public bid law isn't accurate," said City Attorney Rebecca Dietz.

City Council members also questioned representatives of the Sewerage and Water Board about duplicate and extraordinary high customer bills.

"Is there an acknowledgment by the Sewerage and Water Board that many bills have been sent out with the wrong amount, the wrong bill on there?" said Councilwoman Stacy Head.

"Yes, there have been bills that went out that were too high, that should not have gone out and should have been flagged and retained," said Robert Miller, Interim Executive Director of the Sewerage and Water Board.

"It's one thing to receive a bill that's $100, $200 over your normal, but not in the thousands. A lot of New Orleans residents don't have that kind of money sitting in the bank and that could not ruin your day but your life," said resident Tim Garrett.

"I have a lot of discrepancies that I think the City Council should look at, it's just billing across the board," said Toni McCormick, another resident.

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