Water bill spikes frustrate many; $6 million needed to replace meters

Published 12:13 am Saturday, April 29, 2017

LAPLACE — The spigot of controversy that continues to inundate the St. John the Baptist Parish Water Department took a rather odd twist Tuesday night when Parish Council Chairman Larry Snyder refused to allow residents to voice their concerns regarding inflated water bills.

Snyder announced before the start of the public comment section of Tuesday’s Council meeting that discussion of water bills was not on the agenda, only the discussion of water meters. Because discussion of the bills was not an agenda item, residents could not air their concerns during the public comment section since that was limited to agenda items only.

Snyder acknowledged earlier in the day social media was flooded with rumors that Council members would address the ongoing saga of billing problems, something that been plaguing the department for nearly a year as batteries in the current meters have been reaching the end of their 10-year life cycle.

Later in the meeting, however, during a lengthy discussion of how to resolve the issue, Councilman Lennix Madere Jr. repeated on several occasions that the billing problem is linked to failing meters.

“You can’t separate the two,” he said. “How far along are we in selecting new water meters? I don’t see any progress.”

Parish President Natalie Robottom said the problem is much greater than simply fixing the water meters, it lies with “our workforce as well,” a personnel issue her staff is addressing.

She said the parish is in the midst of a four-month study to identify ways to gain efficiency and cut costs in the department. She also informed the Council that the cost of replacing all of the meters is about $6 million, money the parish simply does not have.

Madere agreed with the president about the Parish lacking adequate funding for such a costly project but said the burden should not be placed on the shoulders of residents.

He noted the dizzying spikes in the bills are particularly taxing on residents living on fixed incomes.

He repeated his call to average residents’ bills for the past six months or past year and have customers pay that amount until the meter quagmire is resolved.

“No one would be mad with (paying) the average,” he said.

Snyder implored Council members to stick with discussion of the meters and not billing, but Madere continued to insist the two are irrevocably linked.

Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard said the germane questions to be answered were if the Parish was financially sound enough to repair the automated system, is an automated system even sustainable or should the Parish revert back to a manual system.

“We need to make a decision as to which way to go,” she said.

Robottom explained those questions are the reason for the study and is hopeful the results of that study will provide answers.

Councilman Kurt Becnel said the predominant fear he hears from constituents is their water will be disconnected if they are unable to pay the higher charges.

Becnel encourages residents to pay only their monthly averages as determined by past history and their service will not be cut off.

— By Richard Meek