St. John councilman: Residents 'absolutely' overpaying water bills unknowingly

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LA (WVUE) - A year and a half after it was revealed all of St. John the Baptist Parish's 15,000 water meters would malfunction at some point, parish leaders have yet to agree upon a solution to fix the problem.

At this time, thousands of meters do not provide accurate readings because the registers implanted in the meters keep breaking, which in turn gives unreliable and inaccurate bills to customers.

"Absolutely," Councilman Tom Malik replied when asked if some residents could be overpaying unknowingly.

Malik has been in office for eight months. He said with no fix in sight for possibly another year St. John residents need to start learning how to read their own meters and bills.

"So many of the bills are being averaged so I think those issues can mask what your true billing is," Malik said.

"Immediate help is what we need right now, especially elderly people who get a water bill for $100 and they're usually paying $50. Now, they can't get their medicine this month because they're paying their water bill, and those are people who believe in paying their water bill. They don't want to get their water cut off," Councilman Larry Snyder said.

Snyder said he gets approached by residents about the water meter problem daily. He believes the lack of progress is a failure of government to provide for residents.

"We've had this problem for at least year and a year and a half right now. We haven't solved it yet, and I don't think we can solve it until we read them manually," he said.

But there is a problem with parish employees reading the meters manually.

At the February 14 council meeting, Parish President Natalie Robottom said in some cases paid-parish employees are not doing their jobs.

"It is personnel and as of Friday, we know where our personnel was at 2 o'clock in the day with two and a half hours left to read meters and they weren't reading. So you tell me why you can't get your bill in 30 days," Robottom said. "What we found on Friday was very easy to track, and they still did it. That was after two people in their department were terminated for not doing their job."

Council members recently tabled a motion to loan more than $4 million to pay for new meters that would work similar to the ones that are malfunctioning. Members question if it is cost effective to pay for a system that may fail in a decade.

"I'm not bought or sold on getting this new-expensive-Cadillac of a system. If I know ten years down the road, I'm going to have my future counterparts sitting here with the same problem and residents sitting here with the same problem. I've gotten a disconnect notice without getting a bill," Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard said.

Another problem that has sprung up is that many St. John residents who have working meters have stopped paying their bill all together.

Parish leaders said that is because those residents learned the parish would not disconnect service while it tries to address the issue.

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