NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans City Council will take up a vote Mayor Mitch Landrieu calls one of the most important in the last four years.
The vote, scheduled for Thursday, involves a proposed rate hike for the Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board -- one that's drawing passionate arguments from both sides.
The aging infrastructure that makes up the city’s sewer and water system is at the center of a proposal to raise rates by 10 percent a year, and in turn more than $500 million for needed repairs.
It’s a plan pushed hard by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who spoke about it before the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
“They have kicked the can down the road and they have done an injustice to the people of the city of New Orleans by not trusting that the people of the city of New Orleans would be okay with the truth,” Landrieu said. “And the day of reckoning has come.”
That day will fall on the New Orleans City Council Wednesday, when they vote on the proposal.
They listened to presentations from a number of agencies, including the Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board and the Army Corps of Engineers, which said the city will also need to come up with millions to pay for maintenance of pumps and line relocations related to their work.
Business leaders said the rate increase and subsequent repairs also play into the city’s economy.
“Imagine working in a hotel and you have to tell your guests, all your guests, that they can’t take a shower, that they can’t drink the water in the hotel. And they’re considering bringing conventions to New Orleans or they’re here for a convention,” said Tod Chambers of the Hotel & Lodging Association. “What would make them want to come back?”
But New Orleans City Council President Stacy Head questioned whether all of the possible savings had been carefully looked at ahead of the vote.
“$5 million is just what we quantify, just what we meter as far as free water that we give to governmental and quasi-governmental agencies,” she said.
The Bureau of Governmental Research says they support the rate increase, but also say there must be follow-through proposed changes to how the water board is governed.
“We think that it is very important that the rate increases be linked with governance reforms. You have to have a board that focuses on strategic planning, focuses on the finances, not on the contracting,” said Janet Howard, with the Bureau of Governmental Research.