I’m writing to clarify the recent article about the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans by Jeff Adelson: “New Orleans S&WB flush with cash? FEMA reimbursements, other funds found at end of shaky year.”
While it is good news that the S&WB met its financial obligations to end 2018, we are not “flush with cash.” In our search for funds to pay our vendors, we identified $25 million we initially believed to be restricted to temporarily alleviate our cash flow issues. But many drainage funding needs remain.
In total, the S&WB carried $34.9 million in debt from 2018, with the majority being owed by drainage. While water and sewer are funded by rate charges, drainage is funded through property tax millages that total about $56.6 million each year. We receive that revenue in March. We expect to spend at least $28.6 million of that millage revenue to relieve the majority of the 2018 debt — which we must do — when we receive it. That leaves less than $28 million of the $56 million required annually for 2019 drainage operations and maintenance, a sum we predict will be completely depleted as early as May. This also means there is no money for capital improvements, which are what the system so desperately needs to improve.
I understand the S&WB has a long way to go to regain the community’s trust. I write this to reiterate that I am committed to rebuilding that trust by being honest, and I will continue to communicate with the public, our customers and all S&WB stakeholders so that the community remains informed about the problems facing our agency and can be a part of developing solutions. My goal for our master plan is to create a new S&WB that is positioned to serve New Orleanians into the future with professionalism, transparency and performance.
executive director, New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board