Some frustrated customers welcome news of S&WB hires & pay hike for meter readers

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Some Sewerage and Water Board customers frustrated over incorrect water bills said they would love it if the agency hired an army of meter readers.

Turnover is an issue, so pay was increased recently for the position. Still, if you live in the city, it is a good chance your water meter will not be read every month.

A customer leaving the Sewerage and Water Board headquarters wished they were.

"Absolutely, they do not," said Kirk Garrett.

Garrett would know if he had a leak. He said he is a licensed plumber. He is upset that he received a water bill that is hundreds of dollars higher than normal, and he believes less bill estimation and more actual reading of residential meters should occur.

"They came out and read the meter and said there wasn't a problem, but they've been estimating my bill for years, so I'm not really sure what bill is accurate and what bill isn't," Garrett said.

His friend offered the same sentiments, saying it would be nice to have more meter readers.

While the Sewerage and Water Board maintains that monthly reading of meters is the goal, that is not always the reality given the number of water meter readers, or "Water Service Inspectors" as they are officially called, on the agency's payroll.

Earlier in the week, interim S&WB Executive Director Marcie Edwards said they had hired and trained 20 new meter readers for a total of 41 on the streets of the city.

So oftentimes meters are read every other month.

"I personally would still add a few more until every meter is read every month we need to continue to build up our ranks," said Edwards.

Edwards said salaries for meter readers were increased recently in hopes of decreasing staff turnover.

For Water Service Inspector I, the annual salary increased from $24, 882 to $28,173; from $27, 481 to $29, 978 for Water Service Inspector II ; and for Water Service Inspector III, from $28,882 to $31,505.

"I think the pay adjustments are going to help with recruitment and retention because that's an entry-level class and the turnover is enormous," said Edwards.

One of the new City Council members said "smart meters" should be a part of the equation. According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency they can be read remotely and more frequently.

"So if we can use smart metering, for example, to cut down on the meter readers, that would be good for that piece and then maybe we can raise the salaries of engineers, operators, people at other points of the system to make sure they're being paid what they really deserve," said District A Councilman Joseph Giarrusso.

And Councilman Giarrusso said, in terms of the number of Sewerage and Water Board employees, he would like to see the agency be "right-sized."

"We are down 400 to 600 employees, making sure that the employees who are there are properly supported. We have some really good people working at Sewerage and Water Board right now in the rank and file," said Giarrusso.

S&WB spokesman Richard Rainey said the agency is in discussion with companies about phasing in smart meters.

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