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The Sewerage & Water Board’s huge operating budget and multi billion dollar capital program makes it as financially significant as the rest of city government combined. After five years of OIG reports that confirmed the S&WB;’s poor performance and wasteful and inefficient practices, I reaffirm the same recommendation I made in 2012: New Orleans needs to return the S&WB; to city control; the Sewerage & Water Department should report to the mayor like all the other departments. Oversight can then be improved through policy and citizens dissatisfied with the S&WB; could complain at the polls when they received poor services. The outcome would likely be well worth the effort. There is no risk in changing the status quo because independence has failed miserably for most of a century.

The City of New Orleans and the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB;) have embarked on $2.4 billion of FEMA-funded infrastructure reconstruction projects in addition to ongoing road construction projects funded by other revenue sources. Many of these projects involve repairing and/or replacing components of the water supply system that may include pipes (service lines) that carry water from the water main to a residence/property.

In New Orleans an undetermined number of homes have service lines made of lead (Pb). Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin and no level of lead exposure is deemed safe. Lead service lines are the main contributor of lead in water at the tap. The S&WB does not have complete or accurate records of where lead service lines are located, and many older New Orleans homes may be serviced by lead service lines (LSLs).

The New Orleans Office of Inspector General (OIG) followed up on its July 2013 report on the Sewerage and Water Board’s (S&WB) collection of sanitation fees. The original report found that neither the City nor the S&WB terminated sanitation or water services for customers who did not pay their sanitation bill. The follow-up report found that millions in sanitation fees remain uncollected; lack of enforcement and poor controls persist.

The New Orleans Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an audit report on the Sewerage and Water Board’s collection of sanitation fees. The audit revealed that 35.6 percent of accounts were delinquent and uncollected fees were $3.1 million in 2010 and $8.5 million in 2011. The report observed that the system was ineffective because of insufficient consequences for non-payment.

The Inspector General wrote Mayor Landrieu to express concerns regarding the Sewerage and Water Board’s (S&WB) capacity to manage additional resources in the event that legislation needed to approve rate increases passed. The IG’s assessment was based on standard risk assessment methodologies conducted by the OIG, which indicated that the S&WB was the most likely of the City’s component entities to engage in fraud, waste, and abuse, and raised concerns that additional funds might not be spent properly and in the public interest.
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