December 3 2012 | Latest News"...the rate increase is meant to help repair an aging system, bolster emergency cash reserves..."
Friday, November 30 , 2012
Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - If you live in New Orleans, you could start paying more for water. That's what the Sewerage and Water Board assumed when it put together its 2013 budget.
The agency unveiled its proposed 2013 budget in a public meeting Friday night inside the Port of New Orleans Auditorium. At a time when many New Orleanians are anxious to relax after the work week, few members of the public were in attendance.
The $150.2 million proposed budget is the largest in recent years. Last year’s operations and maintenance budget was $132.7 million. Of the roughly $17 million increase, $7.3 million would go to currently unfunded initiatives said S&WB Deputy Director Robert Miller.
The remainder of the difference has to do with changes in accounting, since the S&WB moved money dealing with hurricane related and repairs from the capitol improvements budget to the operations and maintenance budget.
To help fund the 2103 budget, the S&WB is proposing a ten percent rate increase each year for the next eight years. Property owners like Lynn Bordelon are skeptical about what could be the biggest water rate hike in recent history.
“It’s going to hurt property owners and commercial property owners especially,” said Bordelon. “I'd really like to know what they did with the money they got after Hurricane Katrina.”
“What FEMA has done is to be able to help us restore, but it doesn't help us to continue to move forward, and what this rate increase will do is to help us move forward with many new environmental changes,” said S&WB executive director Marcia St. Martin.
The S&WB said the rate increase is meant to help repair an aging system, bolster emergency cash reserves depleted after Katrina, bring the agency technologically up to date, and payoff capitol improvement projects and tort judgments.
“It's very expensive and we have to be able to raise the rates and raise the funds in order to execute the repairs,” said St. Martin.
Still, there have been lingering questions about the board's accountability. Last year, the inspector general said the board was at the highest risk of fraud and abuse and needed to clean up excessive spending. Now, Mayor Mitch Landrieu is asking the state legislature to reform the way the S&WB operates.
“We want to take a very thoughtful, purposeful approach so that each of the initiatives we take on we're able to accomplish on time and on budget,” said Miller.
The agency’s board of directors is scheduled vote on the proposed budget at its next meeting December 19th.
The city council is set to vote on the proposed water rate increase in December.
If the rate increase doesn’t pass, the S&WB said it has an alternate budget plan that would include basic services.