S&WB leader says progress is being made on issues surrounding high bills

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The interim executive director of the Sewerage and Water Board announced that changes have been made to reduce the number of artificially inflated water bills.

Some residents have complained over the past year of erroneous bills amounting to thousands of dollars.

"They were charging us a thousand dollars for three months that they thought we owed on top of what we paid, which was ridiculous," said a Mid-City resident who did not want her name used.

She held a bill showing the situation grew even worse earlier this year. After the deep-freeze last winter, she received a bill for more than $4,000.

"And they said it was because all of a sudden, we had used $4,000 worth of water in one month, we must have had a leak. We've never had a leak. We had a plumber come out and look at it," said the woman as she sat on her stoop.

Another resident was incredulous over the billing problems.

"I just kind of don't understand how a bill like that can even get sent out. My aunt also received a very high bill. Fortunately, I haven't yet," said Michael Riches.

Interim Executive Director Marcie Edwards updated a committee of the Sewerage and Water Board on steps taken to rectify the problem. She said in October 2016, the new billing system was launched, and in April of last year, large numbers of billing errors were discovered.

She said the freezing temperatures exacerbated the problems by causing leaks on properties.

"Within this agency when they have emergency conditions, it's kind of all-hands-on-deck, and other things don't get managed very well," Edwards said.

Staffing remains a problem at the Sewerage and Water Board.

Edwards said more than 26,000 investigations have been conducted since the new billing system went on line, with 15,995 investigations completed as of the end of last month. She said 92.5% of customers have not filed complaints.

There is a goal to reduce more than 10,000 open investigations by half in the next six weeks. Also 20 new meter readers have been hired, for a total of 41 for the entire city.

"I personally would still add a few more until every meter is read every month. We need to continue to build up our ranks. I think the pay adjustments are going to help with recruitment and retention," Edwards said.

Currently water meters are read every other month, necessitating bill estimation for many customers.

Edwards said the non-profit Blue Drop has been hired to help implement improvements to the S&WB's customer service procedures.

"And we have engaged them to come in and look at practices, procedures, training," said Edwards.

Despite the ongoing problems at the Sewerage & Water Board, Edwards is scheduled to leave by the end of June. She made that clear when she took the temporary position.

"I've seen some of the resumes," she said. "There's some good men and women in there. There's some real talent."

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