Sewerage & Water Board proposes dramatic rate hikes


by Tania Dall / Eyewitness News

Posted on January 23, 2012 at 7:35 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 23 at 11:19 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Sewerage & Water Board rates in the city of New Orleans could more than double in the next five years.

The water board held the first of three public hearings on the issue Monday night at the Dryades YMCA.

The YMCA’s gym wasn’t very full for the public hearing, but as you can imagine, customers weren’t thrilled by the proposed hike.

It’s an aging sewer and water system, and it’s got the leaks to prove it.

Monday night Sewerage & Water Board officials met to ask New Orleans customers to support paying more for their water and sewer services. The reason, they say, is to fix a laundry list of problems that have been ignored for too long.

“It’s important, very important, that water systems throughout North America are keeping up with current technology, current rules, and regulations,” said Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Marcia St. Martin.

Right now, the Sewerage & Water Board says the combined water and sewer bills for the average New Orleans homeowner is $52.50 per month.

Under the proposed rate hike, five years from now combined water and sewer bill would double to $103.65 per month.

The board says the extra money would help pay for hundreds of miles of aging sewer lines throughout the city, help rebuild its outdated power plant, drainage improvements, create more jobs to help respond more efficiently to customer problems, and help operate new drainage pump and floodgates added after Hurricane Katrina.

“In this day and age, price increases are inappropriate and certainly incompatible with the slow economy,” said Lakeview resident Rita.

Not everyone in the audience was convinced that a customer rate hike would be the best idea. Audience members voiced concerns about charging people on fixed incomes, like seniors more money.

Central City resident Maria George asked what has happened to millions of FEMA dollars that were slated to fix the city’s aging infrastructure.

“I heard FEMA is going some of the repairs, but I’m still not happy with what I heard,” George said.

“I don’t think most folks are going to buy this idea that if we raise your rates, everything gets better, certainly not within the five years they’re projecting,” said Tim Garrett of the Greater Bloomingdale Neighborhood Association.

A second public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday City Hall. The Sewerage & Water Board says a final decision on the rate hike plan is expected in March or April. If passed, customers would starting seeing that rate hike in July.