NEW ORLEANS — Sewerage and Water Board officials have said the utility is desperate for cash and might need to impose new fees to pay its bills and satisfy bondholders.
Friday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell talked about the board's dire financial situation.
"Right now, we owe vendors over $40 million for services that they have already rendered, improvements that have already been completed," Cantrell said. "Make no mistake about it, the financial needs of the Sewerage and Water Board are great."
This week, the utility revealed it found $25 million sitting in two accounts that were mistakenly marked "restricted."
Eyewitness News asked board spokesman Rich Rainey if the utility still owed vendors tens of millions of dollars.
Rainey sent this reply:
"The best way to explain this is that this is a dynamic situation. We're paying off our debts to contractors and other expenses daily, meanwhile accruing more expenditures as the utility goes about its business. We made substantial headway in January toward our outstanding debts to vendors, but that doesn't overshadow the fact that the financial condition of SWBNO remains precarious. These debts were paid through one-time federal reimbursements. No utility can operate and improve at a responsible, consistent rate without a reliable, sustainable source of revenue."
City Councilman Joe Giarrusso said he plans to ask utility officials multiple questions at the council's next Public Works Committee meeting.
"What is you operating revenue? How much are you really raising on the sewer and the water side. We know on drainage how much property tax we get every year, but that seems to be a moving target. Then how is the money being spent," Giarrusso said.
"I think people just want to know what being collected and what's it being spent on and it's news that you keep on finding money in the couch cushions is not sitting well with them," he said.
Pat Bryant from the citizen's group 'Justice and Beyond' said the board may have a difficult time convincing customers the time is right to raise fees or property taxes.
"Let them put up a millage and see how many people will support it," Bryant said. "I don't think they can scare enough people."
Bryant said the S&WB has contentiously spent money in the wrong places.
"We're feeding the fat," Bryant said. "We're feeding these hungry contractors who got to make a buck, but what are we doing to our citizens."
In the meantime, Cantrell said new sources of revenue are needed to stabilize the shaky finances at the S&WB.
"We're taking every step necessary to identify resources internally as well as understand the resources that are needed, externally," Cantrell said.