NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – No more calls from collection agencies—that’s the demand from fed-up Sewerage and Water Board customers.
The New Orleans City Council will consider a resolution that would request the Sewerage and Water Board to stop sending customers with delinquent bills to collection agencies.
Councilman At-Large JP Morrell said during a joint committee meeting Wednesday that his office has heard from constituents who say they have been reported to collections agencies in connection with their deceased parents’ accounts.
Customers who also attended the meeting say they are in full support of the resolution.
“They have to make decisions between water bills, prescription medicine, food, and damn, some of them keeping their lights on and the water on, period!” Jesse Perkins, a former Sewerage & Water Board employee, said.
About a dozen people attended the council’s joint committee meeting to let council members know they don’t trust the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans after receiving bills they say don’t make sense.
Morrell says passing a resolution that would request the sewerage and water board to stop sending delinquent bills to collection agencies is crucial.
“Creditworthiness affects every aspect of your life. How much a loan is, is determined by your credit readiness,” Morrell said. “Whether you can rent an apartment or get housing is dependent on your creditworthiness.”
The Sewerage and Water Board was not present at the meeting but provided a statement to council members. The board said it’s not their policy nor practice to send a customer’s account to collections when it’s under dispute.
“To the contrary, sending an account to collections is an action of last resort and comes only after several attempts are made to notify and work with the customer, regarding an overdue bill,” the statement read.
Council members and customers refuted the board’s response, claiming disputed bills are going to collections.
“I will be happy to get that person [who wrote the letter] under oath and find out exactly what they do and what they don’t do and get you the truth,” Bob Ellis, an attorney representing a customer, said.
The resolution will be voted on during next week’s council meeting.
Council president Helena Moreno is also hoping to pass an ordinance that directs the sewerage and water board to stop this practice.
Representatives with Entergy New Orleans were also in attendance to share how they’re hoping to help customers amid high utility bills.
They say they have committed about a million dollars to the United way for bill payment assistance for customers.
Beginning August 17, qualifying customers in New Orleans can apply for a one-time $150 credit to put toward their utility bill.
However, some customers say the funds will only go so far.
“[I have] a $461 bill that I haven’t paid yet and a three hundred seventy-something-dollar bill, so all together, I’d say that’s like eight hundred-and-something dollars, and that $150 is going to be like putting 25 cents on that bill,” one customer said.
Council members voiced their concerns that elderly customers who need assistance will not hear about credit if the campaign is solely online.
Representatives with Entergy said they’re working with Rebuilding New Orleans to identify these customers vowed to make sure qualifying customers do have the opportunity to apply.
They said they’re working with Rebuilding Together New Orleans to identify in-need customers.
Call Rebuilding Together New Orleans at (504) 264-1815 or the United Way at (504) 822-5540 for more information about the assistance.