Read her statement here
The VP of the New Orleans City Council, Jackie Clarkson, has defended her efforts to rush a city council vote on proposed sewer and water rate increases.
The proposal to double rates over 8 years is on the agenda for tomorrow's council meeting.
Clarkson, who has been unavailable for comment, issued a statement on the matter Wednesday morning. Here is her statement in its entirety:
"The legislation before the City Council tomorrow to increase Sewerage and Water rates will not double the rates immediately. Sewerage and Water rates will each increase by 10% per year over eight years. Rates will not be doubled next year. In fact, this rate hike is 5% less than what was originally proposed under the rate study conducted by Raftelis Financial Consultants earlier this year. Mayor Landrieu obtained more funds from FEMA and spread the increase over time to lessen the burden on rate-payers. For the elderly and low income, the S&WB will offer assistance through an expanded water help program.
For too long, too many Councils and Administrations have avoided raising the Sewerage and Water Board's rates. Because they did not want to increase residents' expenses, we now find ourselves in a crisis. Due to our 300 year old water system and a lack of proper maintenance and investment, we are leaking almost half (40%) of the water that is pumped out to the users. If we invest in this system, finally, there will be less waste and costs will go down.
The funds generated from the rate increase will help fund a $3.3 billion Capital Improvement Program to repair our crumbling infrastructure and ensure our water supply is up to EPA standards for health and safety. We must stop wasting money on patchy repairs that never last.
The EPA has required us to make investments in our infrastructure in order to comply with federal standards for healthy water. We need these funds so that we can complete the requirements of this federal Consent Decree that we have been under since 1998 when the EPA first informed us that our water system was at risk.
The issue of funding to repair our water system has been before the public for several years. The S&WB rate study was released 6 months ago and the S&WB held public meetings at the beginning of this year. It will never be popular to raise the rates, and that is why every administration and council has been putting it off. It is not popular, but it is the right thing for New Orleans.
For the first time, the Mayor, Council and business leaders are coming together with a consensus to change the governance. We need to take politicians and political appointees off the Board and put in experts such as engineers, accountants and scientists who specialize in water management and environmental science. This is a state law issue and we must wait for the next legislative session to enact these reforms.
While it would be ideal to reform the Board before increasing rates, the consent decree time line necessitates that the rates be increased now while we continue to work with the state legislature and the New Orleans delegation, who all support us, to enact the reform.
Without passing this legislation to increase the rates now and secure our water supply, we put the safety of the citizens of New Orleans at risk."
The President of the City Council, Stacy Head has been urging Clarkson to defer the vote until the public is given an opportunity to provide "thorough" input but her request has fallen on deaf ears.