A water faucet is wrapped to protect it from freezing weather Thursday, February 18, 2021, on East Vermilion Street in Lafayette, La.

Broussard residents and businesses that saw a spike in water usage as a result of last week's winter storm will only have to foot half of the overage on their utility bills.

Mayor Ray Bourque proposed at this week's city council meeting crediting about $5,000 to customers to ease the burden of unexpected expenses caused by broken water lines during sustained freezing temperatures.

"It is my intent to meet the customer halfway on this, that we would only charge them 50% of the total," Bourque said. "Things are tough enough as they are. People have had some problems with the ice storm among other things, and there are some people that are absolutely asking us for any help they can get."

Bourque's proposal, which wasn't on the agenda for the meeting, was met with warm reception. Council members unanimously agreed to allow the mayor to act under emergency authorization so the city could cover half of the overage expenses.

So far, only 18 of the city's 5,600 water customers qualify for a credit on their utility bill. 

Their combined water bill overages total $5,654.90. 

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Each customer's overage, which is calculated by determining how much more water was used than is typical for the household or business on the affected days, varied widely. One customer's monthly bill would include an added overage amount of $54.56, while another's would be as much as $1,950.81.

Customers will only have to pay half of the overage amount and will receive a credit for the remaining overage, but they will have to pay the entirety of the bill for water usage outside of the overage period.

The number of customers with overages related to the weather is expected to increase.

Water meter readings for the billing cycle happen mid-month, which coincided this month with the winter storm's arrival. Some leaks weren't apparent until after pipes thawed in the days following the storm, so the overage amounts won't be reflected until the meter reading for next month's bill.

"If it freezes up enough to bust a pipe, then it's frozen solid," said Broussard Public Works Director Mel Bertrand. "So it won't leak until it starts thawing out, and that's when you see you have a leak. It's quite possible that this will go into the next billing cycle."

Bourque said he doesn't expect the city to cover more than $5,000 for water bill overages related to the storm. If the amount of affected customers increases substantially in the coming bill cycle, Bourque said he would revisit the matter with the council before proceeding. 

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