NEW ORLEANS -- Sewerage & Water Board customers have horror stories to tell about bills that have inexplicably ballooned in recent months while they deal with a perceived lack of customer service.
"We get a normal bill for about $114 and all of a sudden we get for $1,800-plus," customer Beau Beals said.
"I have property that doesn't have water service," customer Howard K. Soper said. "This is the third day I've come down here and talked with everybody who's available and I get no answer."
"Over the last couple of years, (I) had irrational bills in the $500 and $600 range," customer Mark Holmes said.
On Wednesday, WWL-TV could not find one satisfied customer leaving the agency’s headquarters in the Warehouse District.
“Obviously there's a problem that is very understated," Paul Rainwater, S&WB Interim Emergency team leader said. "We had over 5,000 disputed bills."
The billing and customer service problems are so widespread that Rainwater, the consultant brought in to lead the emergency management team after the July 22 and Aug. 5 floods, has decided to stay on an extra month through the end of the year.
Rainwater is now shifting his focus from aging infrastructure to the business side of the operation.
The S&WB board will temporarily suspend shutting off water for customers with delinquent accounts that are in dispute until March 2018.
Rainwater said this will give the beleaguered agency time to tweak the billing software and assess why so many customers are seeing their bills skyrocketing.
"Their bills shouldn't be sent to bill collectors (and) their water should not be turned off while we have the problem," Rainwater said.
Rainwater said he learned a lot after making his own calls to S&WB customer service reps.
"I made some phone calls on the customer service line and it got very frustrating because you were waiting for 15 to 20 minutes," he said. "Some of it is about training. Some of it is about procedures.
Some of it is about how you treat people."
Rainwater said he hopes to head billing and customers service in the right direction before he leaves.
Until then, customers will continue to leave S&WB headquarters with a bad taste in their mouths.
"You can't get good results on the phone. You have to come down (to the office)," Beals said. "Then when you come down, they've got antiquated equipment. I think they still have DOS system for computers inside."
"The management doesn't exist with the Sewerage & Water Board," Soper said. "It's in a state of total collapse."
There was one other policy change announced by the Sewerage & Water Board.
If your bill is more than 30 percent higher that your previous month's bill, that will automatically trigger a billing inquiry.