NEW ORLEANS – A new report calls for drastic measures to improve the crumbling sewer and water services in the city, including removing elected members from the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board and giving the agency more control over its own finances.
The report by the Bureau of Governmental Research says that removing elected officials from the board would “reduce politics in decision-making.” “This would eliminate the ability of officials to hinder the proper funding of the S&WB by opposing rate increases at the board level,” says the report.
The mayor and three council members serve on the 13-member board. Council members Jackie Clarkson, Jon Johnson and Stacy Head are the currently serving on the board of directors. Eyewitness News is working to get comment from each of them.
Also, "two members of the Board of Liquidation appointed by the mayor on the recommendation
of that board, and seven citizen members appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of
the City Council," says the report.
The Landrieu administration responded to report and agreed that reforms are needed. "In terms of governance, public bodies with public funding that oversee public utilities ought to have public representation. We are open to reforming term lengths, just as we have done with other public agencies,” said Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant.
The BGR report comes as S&WB wants to implement a 10-year, $3.5 billion capital program to address its deteriorating infrastructure needs. While the federal government is expected to cover over two-thirds of the tab, according to BGR, residents could pay $1 billion of the costs.
The BGR report sees a need for the agency to upgrade the system: "The water system suffers from widespread leakage. The sewage collection system and treatment facilities do not yet meet federal standards. The S&WB’s aging power plant has suffered two major outages since Hurricane Katrina, one of which prompted a boil-water order last year. The drainage system needs significant investments to address aging equipment and expand capacity."
"Through our work with FEMA, $82 million in new funding for S&WB projects has been committed since taking office. This will fund vital repairs at the power plant, thousands of repairs to water and sewer lines, and repairs to pumps and pump stations. We have made finding new funding for the aging S&WB power plant a top priority, fighting for FEMA and state Hazard Mitigation funds," said Grant.
Additionally the BGR report calls for the Sewerage & Water Board to have “limited authority” to raise rates. Currently, the agency must seek approval from the City Council to raise rates.
“The maximum annual increase would be tied to an appropriate index or other measure,” says the report. But if the agency seeks larger increases, council approval would be needed.
Under BGR’s proposal, removing elected officials of the board would shrink the board to nine members and the remaining members would have the terms reduced from nine years to four.
“The nine-year terms of appointed S&WB members are too long. Reducing the terms to four years would allow for re-evaluation of their performance in the context of a reappointment process. Imposing term limits would help guard against the entrenchment of individual board members,” says the report.
The report also calls to establish experience requirements for some board members. Members would also be limited to three consecutive terms.
At 5 p.m. the Eyewitness News will have more on the potential overhaul to the S&WB.