Council VP JP Morrell Says “SWB Billing Relief Is On the Way”

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New Orleans City Council Vice President JP Morrell says that “SWB billing relief is on the way” following the passage of HB 652, which gives the Council the ability to conduct financial audits and regulate the billing policies of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (SWB). Although the bill originally would have made SWB a public utility, that provision – which was strongly opposed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell – was stripped while still in the state Senate committee.

Following that, Cantrell seemed to reverse course on the bill.

“Today our Orleans Delegation to the Louisiana Legislature and local partners secured a win-win for the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, the City of New Orleans, and our residents,” said Cantrell “Through legislative amendments, we were able to put more tools in the toolbox for the Sewerage and Water Board to address outstanding billing issues, while ensuring continued progress for operations. We’ve seen dramatic improvements, reduced flooding, and real infrastructure investments over the last four years. The passage of this legislation is yet another crucial step in regaining public trust in SWBNO’s billing process.”

Once signed into law, HB 652 gives the Council the ability to “establish, by ordinance, procedures regarding the billing policies of the board.” That includes modifying or lowering an outlandish bill received by a customer, and waiving late charges and accrued interest.

“There are a lot of people in this city that have exorbitant high bills, and there is no sense of urgency to resolve them,” Morrell told The Advocate.

Morrell’s choice to push HB 652 as a previous state senator was unusual but indicative of a council that has been increasingly at odds with Mayor Cantrell on several issues. In recent months, the Council has asked voters to approve a measure that would allow them confirmation powers over mayoral appointees, launched a sweeping investigation into the administration’s “smart cities” initiative (an investigation that is now the subject of a lawsuit by the Cantrell administration), passed a resolution asking Cantrell to “fairly and equitably” enforce laws, and blasted her administration on its lack of communication with the council.

I’m new to the council, but what shocks me sort of every day is that I hear news about actions taken by the administration in [The New Orleans Advocate] and other news sources rather than hearing it directly from the administration,” councilmember Lesli Harris said.

“I am frankly also tired of not being able to have communications regarding these matters, and I am frustrated that a great deal of my personal time is spent not hearing about things and then having to play catch up as a result,” council Joe Giarrusso agreed.

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