NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - City councilman Joe Giarrusso told the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board to resolve long-running billing issues or face the city council possibly taking action. But another councilman pushed back after hearing that statement.
Giarrusso chairs the council’s Public Works Committee and he slammed the S&WB over ongoing complaints related to overly inflated bills being sent to some customers.
“Opening your monthly water bill should not cause anxiety but for so many people that’s the reality,” said Giarrusso. “The public is not looking for lip service but better customer service.”
He said the billing system has not received the attention it needs.
“The billing system has neither been prioritized nor improved in the last two years,” said Giarrusso.
So Giarrusso issued an ultimatum.
“Sewerage and Water Board has two options, first it can get its house in order in the next quarter and publicly show a concerted and objective commitment to improvement, or it is my belief based on the charter its rate-making authority and a silence of state law this council is empowered by ordinance to pass billing changes and other measures to bring the billing problem to heal.”
Councilman Jay Banks, who is the council’s representative on the board of directors for the S&WB, pushed back on that idea.
“Has anything been done right?” Banks asked Giarrusso.
Giarrusso said he has acknowledged the progress the agency has made in some other areas.
“Well, that’s why I started my comments by saying and look, I’m going to spend time on the power which I think has made tremendous progress, the canal cleanings which have made progress. But billing, I have not seen the degree of progress, nor I think have the people of the city seen the degree of progress,” he said.
Banks said the agency has had problems for a long time and steps are being taken to address them.
“My momma got a bill that’s screwed up, so I get it. But I also, I don’t know what the answer is that we can all of a sudden throw everything out and start brand new to make it all fixed immediately,” said Banks. “I think we got to work towards that, and it is my appreciation that is happening, now is it happening fast enough? No and trust me I’m not the defender of the Sewerage and Water Board.”
Ghassan Korban, executive director of the Sewerage and Water Board, addressed the council members during the virtual meeting.
“You’re right we have to deliver on what we say we owe the customer at a minimum,” said Korban.
He said the agency’s efforts to rectify customer service issues have been hampered.
“We had somewhat of a setback having found what we thought was the right person to lead our customer service office and they backed out,” said Korban.
Still, he said the agency continues to work to improve billing accuracy.
And in light of Giarrusso’s comments, Banks suggested that there be a flat bill or fee for S&WB customers until the billing issues can be resolved.
“Maybe that’s the way to get this done, everybody pay just whatever, and we figure out what the dollar amount is until we can actually get to the point where we stop sending people these egregious bills,” Banks stated.
Giarrusso said in response, “The place to start is if you have a policy, follow your policy and that doesn’t require hard work.”
The S&WB says it has been implementing an aggressive plan to increase the reading of customers' water meters and has a plan of action to improve billing by decreasing bill estimates. It says additional meter readers are being hired.
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