NEW ORLEANS -- With major drainage failures during summer rainstorms and a new billing system that went haywire, 2017 was a bad year for the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans, however a new audit released Wednesday indicates it may not have been a bad year financially with revenue increases across the board.
But buried in the long-delayed annual financial report for 2017, which was filed with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, is more potential bad news.
It appears errors with billing and metering WWL-TV has chronicled all year may have contributed to almost $21 million in charges the board doesn’t count on being paid.
That’s more than double the number the board included for “doubtful accounts” in 2016.
It is unclear how much of that increase can be blamed exclusively on billing errors, and how much is the result of a moratorium placed on payments for those disputed accounts enacted at the end of 2017.
The board changed how it reported water consumption in this year’s audit, making it appear the agency metered 6 billion more gallons than the previous year.
A spokesman said the increase in gallons metered from 13.1 billion to 19.2 billion, as reported in the new audit, includes water consumed that no one will ever pay for, such as when the city of New Orleans flushes its fire hydrants.
Overall, the amount billed to customers and the amount they paid for those bills remained consistent year-over-year.
The issues with the “new” billing system, implemented in October 2016, have been the subject of WWL-TV’s “Down the Drain” investigation and numerous City Council oversight hearings.
The Sewerage & Water Board says it’s “all but cleared the backlog” of disputed accounts, which the S&WB says totaled 7,800 in May 2018.
The number of bill disputes received by the board since the implementation of its new computer system topped 26,000 earlier this year.