NEW ORLEANS -- With the new year will come a new price for the cost of water and sewer service in New Orleans.
"These are very difficult decisions, and we believe that we made the right decision today to go forward," said Ray Manning, President pro tem of the Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board.
In a 5-2 vote on Thursday, the City Council approved raising the rate by 10 percent a year for the next seven years. That will raise more than $500 million to pay for repairs to the city's aging sewer and water system.
For the average consumer who pays $52 a month, next year's monthly bill would be about $58. By 2020, that same bill would be $112.
"I want to be very clear about this -- this city is in a position of danger, right now," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who addressed the council before the vote. "The power plant at the Sewerage & Water Board has broken five times since Katrina."
The rate increase comes with an understanding that reforms on the make-up of the board and how it operates will be pushed for at the state legislature.
"While it would be ideal to reform the board before increasing rates, the consent decree timeline necessitates the rates be increased now," said City Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson, who was referring to a 1998 consent decree that the Sewerage & Water Board has been under, because the EPA said it was violating the Clean Water Act.
Still, some residents expressed concern about the rate increase.
"We cannot afford it," said resident Viola Washington. "We don't trust the Sewerage & Water Board because it's too much money."
In the end, only Councilman Ernest Charbonnet and Council President Stacy Head opposed the motion. Head said she voted against it because of how the process unfolded.
"The majority of the council voted for it," she said. "So now, I'm going to hold, I hope, the Sewerage & Water Board accountable for the promises that they made to do better by the citizens of New Orleans -- because they are getting a lot of money."
With the rate increase beginning on Jan. 1, the board said expect work on the water and sewer system to begin about six months later. That includes improvements to the problematic power plant, with a design team to be selected next month to fix it.