S&WB leader explains the crackdown on customers with long-delinquent bills

S&WB to resume bill collections, water shut-offs

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Following a flood of complaints about overly inflated water bills, some amounting to thousands of dollars, the Sewerage and Water Board suspended collections efforts on delinquent bills and stopping shutting off customers' water. But Thursday the agency announced that its leniency is ending.

"So we have about 17,000 accounts that are delinquent, and that ranges, but it's approximately $21 million that is outstanding," said Acting Executive Director Jade Brown-Russell.

"The collection efforts will be applicable to those customers who are not currently in the dispute process and who are delinquent on their accounts. So those who are account holders who had more than I believe $50 or more of a bill and 60 days delinquent," Brown-Russell stated.

And the agency said service shut-offs start up again Aug. 1 for delinquent customers.

"I think that people who ignore it shouldn't be ignoring it," said customer Janet Maumus.

And while the Sewerage and Water Board is about to begin collecting on those delinquent bills, Brown-Russell said they will work with customers who owe a whole lot of money.

"What we have agreed to do is to provide customers with a payment arrangement of paying 25% of the amount of the bill and spread the rest of that bill out over a nine-month period," she stated.

"My experience has been if you come down and you address it with them, they'll work with you on it," Maumus.

She went to the S&WB headquarters over her mother-in-law's bill.

"She hadn't been at her house for a while and then when we all of a sudden got a big bill, a $500 bill, it was like we turned off the water and they're just waiting for them to adjust the bill," Maumus said.

Simultaneously, the agency is working to clear a backlog of disputed bills, which is different from delinquent bills.

"We currently have approximately 7,200. That number goes up and down every day," Brown-Russell said.

Some workers are dedicated solely to reviewing bills received before June 22.

"We have a strike team of some of our best-trained employees in this area who will really be committing full-time to reducing the backlog," said Brown-Russell.

There remains a shortage of meter-readers for the over 130,000 meters in the city. Friday the S&WB will begin interviewing applicants for the post.

"I know we carry somewhere between 30 and 40. My staff has said that they wouldn't mind having up to 50. That is a high-turnover position. They deal with a lot of elements, the weather, animals," said Brown-Russell.

She said soon the Canadian firm Cogsdale C will return to do additional training and provide other services aimed at reducing the number of billing errors.

"And the reality is we're going to have to keep them here for ongoing training. We have new employees who are coming in all the time," Brown-Russell said.

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