S&WB presents budget plan

New Orleans — The staff of the Sewerage & Water Board has proposed for 2013 a $150.2 million operating budget to run the city’s sewer, water and drainage systems.

The operating budget would increase next year by $17.5 million, S&WB Deputy Director Robert Miller said, largely due to new ways the utility accounts for some repairs that previously were paid for out of the capital budget. The larger budget will make available about $7.4 million for currently unfunded projects, he said.

Miller presented the proposed budget to an audience of a little more than a dozen people during a public meeting Friday night at the Port of New Orleans administration building.

No one in the audience asked questions during the meeting, but one question important for next year’s spending plan will be whether a proposed rate hike for water and sewer services wins City Council approval this month.

A S&WB plan has identified the need for annual rate increases of 10 percent during the next eight years.

The agency says it needs the additional money to embark on a $3.3 billion overhaul of its aging infrastructure and to increase revenues for operating and maintenance costs.

During its November meeting, the board sent to the council two resolutions the council has since introduced as proposed ordinances that address the rate increase.

The proposal would raise the average monthly residential bill by 136 percent in 2020, generating $582.6 million for the agency, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Bureau of Governmental Research.

The council’s budget committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinances during a meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the council chambers.

The council could vote on the ordinances by the middle of the month.

The new rates are not the only things that could change with the S&WB during the coming months.

After the board conducted public hearings last year about the proposed increases, it received feedback that found several areas in which it needed to improve, including its efficiency and management.

Since then, several proposals to rework the management have been presented, and while everyone seems to agree change is overdue, no one can quite yet agree on what that change will look like.

The S&WB’s board last month voted to adopt the agency’s executive committee plan to reduce the board from 13 to 11 members by cutting the three City Council members who sit on the board and replacing one of those spots with a member appointed by the mayor.

Other plans have come from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the BGR, a citizen’s advisory group and City Council President Stacy Head. The general idea with each plan is to reduce the size of the board and to reduce the length of terms, which are nine years.

Even if the City Council loses its representation on the S&WB, it would retain its oversight of the water board.

Any change to the management structure, though, would take about a year to implement because of updates that would have to happen at the state and local level following a public vote.

In the meantime, the deadline to adopt the budget looms, since one must be passed by Dec. 31.