Video and story by Madison Mcloughlin, Pack News
Uptown homeowner Mark Heller noticed what he said had to be a mistake in one of his Sewerage & Water Board bills several months ago. What was usually a bill for around $100 was now a bill for $697 for a single month. There was no explanation.
“I would expect there to be a small flood somewhere in my yard with a bill that size, but we don’t see any leaks anywhere,” he said.
Heller is not alone in his frustration. Many other residents experienced the same issue with their monthly bills. Once a questionable bill is received, homeowners are able to challenge the Sewerage & Water Board.
“Sometimes you have to be very firm that you want that investigation in case they try to discourage you,” said Corinne Morrison, a lawyer and Uptown property owner. “Once the investigation is over with, if you’re not in agreement with that, you can ask for a hearing.”
Morrison owns eight different properties and said she had similar issues with high bills for at least half of them. She believes the water meters are outdated, and often incorrectly read the water usage of the properties.
As a lawyer, Morrison has an advantage that other citizens don’t when it comes to taking on the Sewerage & Water Board in court. Most of the property owners fighting the board go into the hearing unprepared and not knowing what to expect.
District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso has been trying to work with the Sewerage & Water Board to get the high bill issue resolved since his election in 2017, when it was becoming a larger problem.
“This billing issue has been a chronic problem for as long as I can remember,” he said. “We’ve tried to talk to each other about it.”
When contacted, the Sewerage & Water Board issued a statement saying that it has made a number of improvements over the past year that are attempting to decrease the inaccurate charges, including a higher quality meter-reading process.
Giarrusso, as well as several customers, said that the Sewerage & Water Board has been slow to respond to high water bill issues. Morrison said that it could be due to the extent of the problem.
“I don’t even know what the magnitude of it is,” Morrison said. “My piece is such a little microcosm of all the properties and all the bills in the city.”
Giarrusso, who chairs the council’s Public Works, Sanitation and Environment Committee, has suggested a plan to the board to try to resolve the issue, but the Sewerage & Water Board has yet to give the city an answer in the form of a well-thought-out plan to keep the high bills from reappearing, he said.
S&WB officials stated that they are working with its customers to resolve the issues.
“Sewerage & Water Board meter readers make every effort to read every single water meter and ensure all readings accurately reflect each customers’ water usage,” the statement read. “We are committed to working with any and every customer who believes they have received an inaccurate bill.”
However, there is still no publicized plan in place to fix the inaccurate reading of the meters and to solve the overall billing issue, according to Giarrusso. Customers like Heller and Morrison are still waiting for a timely resolution and wishing the board would be more responsive when it comes to the billing issues.
“It’s going to take people continuing to speak up and be frustrated with this problem and continue to have it magnified before it can finally get solved,” Giarrusso said.
Reporter Madison Mcloughlin is a mass communications student at Loyola University New Orleans.