If you live in Shreveport and you have not had a heart attack or a near miss one when opening your monthly mail from The City of Shreveport Department of Water and Sewage (DOWUS), you can consider yourself to be both lucky and overdue for a real heart stopper. Almost every DOWUS costumer has incurred substantially increased DOWUS billings in the last few years, and there is little relief in sight for at least two reasons, not counting the effects, if any, of global warming.
The first is that the water rates have increased three times since October 1, 2013 and the sewage rates (which are based on water usage) have increased four times in the same interval. Water rates will increase twice more between now and January 1, 2022 while sewer rates will increase five times in the same interval. The rate increases are structured to pay off the $350 million of bonds that the City must issue over 12 years to satisfy the 2104 EPA consent decree for sewer upgrades. The City Council also approved $180 million of bonds for water projects that will also be repaid from the increased rates for that water project.
The second reason for the outlandish water/sewer bills many residents have, and continue to receive, is the well documented water billing mess at City Hall. Even Mayor Tyler has admitted that the water bills are probably inaccurate, which is an event in and of itself; the City has fired its water billing software company and also sued this computer program vendor. Currently the City has issued two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to address these issues. The first is for a compliance examination and review of DOWUS operations to include customer enrollment, customer usage, water meter accuracy, water meter reading accuracy, correct billing and the like. The second is to replace the City’s water billing computer programs.
Assuming that in the near future the water billing fiasco is resolved, which is a big leap even for the eternally optimistic, the news is not good for Shreveport water customers. The rate increases are going to happen to repay the bonds, and more bond issues can be assumed in the near future to deal with “the rest of the story” as told by City Engineer Robert Westerman in his End of Year 2106 State of Municipal Infrastructure which was released in February of this year. Westerman noted that the total authorized bond issuance of $530 million will just allow the City to play “catch up” for many years of inadequate funding.
Westerman noted that the consent decree also requires the City to make on-going assessments, repairs and rehabilitation to the sewer system, at an estimated additional $285 million in capacity improvement projects. To compound the situation, funding has not been provided to fully implement and establish an Asset Management and GIS data up-to-date to provide a current inventory of the water distribution system as well as the wastewater collection system. Westeman estimates that fully integrated program will take several years and $15 to $20 million dollars to implement. Sooo…Shreveport residents can just go ahead and plan to spend more and more for water (and) sewer for the indefinite future.
SUEZ, N.A. has requested, to no avail, a meeting with Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler and/or Shreveport Chief Administrative Officer, Brian Crawford, to discuss options that could be very favorable to Shreveport residents, both from the point of view of future water/sewage bills as well as funding for much needed City projects such as the pension deficit, police staffing, pay raises for other City employees and the like. SUEZ can either buy DOWUS from the City—lock, stock and barrel—or sign a concession agreement whereby SUEZ manages the water and sewer system subject to City oversight.
To date both Tyler and Crawford have given a deaf ear to local attorney J. Randsdell Keene, who represents SUEZ, even after his very insightful presentation to the Council on July 25 (Tyler and Crawford were present). With a long term agreement SUEZ could assume all liability for the water billing litigation, implement fully the EPA consent decree and pay off the bonds allowing the City to retain the unexpended bond funds, and resolve the current billing challenges. SUEZ can also assume responsibility for maintaining the systems while guaranteeing employment for all DOWUS employees.
SUEZ representatives now hope to meet with the Council Infrastructure Committee, which is chaired by Jeff Everson; other committee members are Mike Corbin, Oliver Jenkins and Willie Bradford. Collectively they have 23 years of Council service; they are well familiar with Shreveport’s infrastructure challenges, the City’s fiscal status and the need for progressive out of the box planning. Much like Councilman Bradford’s bold step in introducing a resolution to request Tyler to meet with Caddo Sheriff Prator to discuss Shreveport crime and Council President James Flurry’s proposal to create a city planning office, city leaders must continue to look for increased cost savings, upgrades in city services, and accountability by government employees. To not meet with SUEZ and at least discuss possible solutions is nonsensical; a SUEZ meeting with the Infrastructure Committee should start a much needed dialogue about new options for the City.