The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) forwarded a long-term rate hike plan to Mayor Mitch Landrieu last week. The plan, which was approved by S&WB's executive committee earlier this month, would increase water rates by 10 percent each year through 2020 to help pay for billions in infrastructure repairs. Landrieu, who also serves as the board president, is expected to review the plan before the board takes a vote, which could happen as early as next month.
The decision to advance the current plan comes in spite of criticism from Landrieu that it ignores a serious problem: governance. Over the summer, Landrieu asked the board to address governance issues in its report on the rate hike. Prior to last week's board meeting, the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) sent a letter calling for delay of the full rate hike until the board — along with (the) city and the state — "fix the way [S&WB] is governed and the way it operates," the letter reads. "Rather than providing a plan for governance reform, [the rate hike plan] calls for future meetings on the topic."
BGR recommends removing the mayor and City Council members from the board, as well as setting shorter terms and term limits.
City Council President Stacy Head, a member of the S&WB, echoed this position at the meeting, saying she wants to minimize politics in decisions on the city's infrastructure.
"I'd like to see the governance changes before the rate increases," other than those that would produce immediate, tangible benefits to customers or would be required to meet improvement deadlines set in a 1998 federal consent decree, Head said. "My suggestion is to take the council's direct input out, and have it be an appointment of the council, because I do think politics continues to play too strong a role," she said, adding that she does not want to remove Landrieu from the board. — Charles Maldonado