The New Orleans City Council’s Utility, Cable, Telecommunications, and Technology Committee recently met with representatives from the Sewerage and Water Board to address concerns regarding customer assistance for those who are behind on their water bills. One particular issue raised was why the board did not suspend disconnects during the extreme heat of this past summer.
Ghassan Korban, the executive director of the Sewerage and Water Board, explained that suspending disconnects would only lead to more problems in the long run. This is because while disconnects are suspended, the meter continues to run, resulting in even larger bills once the disconnects resume. Korban also highlighted that suspensions are often taken advantage of by individuals who can afford to pay, further impacting the board’s financial situation.
To address the issue, Korban suggested the implementation of a city, state, or federal program similar to the one used during the pandemic. This program provided $1.8 million in assistance to help people pay their bills. Some council members pointed out that Entergy, another utility provider, suspended disconnects during the extreme heat. Additionally, it was noted that the Sewerage and Water Board receives $65 million in taxpayer money.
During the committee hearing, the council also approved the findings for the first round of customer appeal cases. Two years ago, the council began exploring the creation of a new appeals process for customers to challenge their water bills. The approved plan required an external company to review these cases. Out of 105 appeals, 50 were deemed eligible for review by the external company, and decisions were returned for 45 of these cases.
While the council did not disclose the outcomes of each individual case, a statement released afterward revealed that 36 appeals were found in favor of the customers. In one particular case, the appeals manager recommended discharging all incorrect bills prior to January 2018 due to meter repair issues and lack of information regarding the basis for large bills.
Implementing this appeals process has provided an extra layer of accountability, resulting in significant savings for customers and relief from erroneous bills. The efforts of the council indicate their commitment to addressing the concerns of water bill payments and advocating for fair and accurate billing practices.