Fox 8 ran this story tonight about Councilwoman Hedge-Morrell owing more than a couple of thousand dollars in sanitation fees.
Sadly, no one featured in this story -- not the outraged citizen, not Bureau of Governmental Research President Janet Howard, not Councilwoman Head, not the person who crafted the statement from Mayor Landrieu's office, and not even Councilwoman Hedge-Morrell -- seem to have a clue what's going on.
I think I do, and these folks should too. Have you ever directly paid your sanitation fee directly to the Sanitation Dept.? No. You pay it to the Sewerage and Water Board.
At the beginning of this year, I received a notice from a debt collection company hitting me up for about 3 months of unpaid sanitation fees. (Of course, the only thing I've thrown away in 25 years is the piece of paper with this company's name on it, but I do remember the company was in Slidell.) I spoke with a customer service rep at the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board who explained that when you pay your water bill late, they do not forward that month's fee for trash collection to the Sanitation Department. Thus, if you pay your bill even one day after the due date, SWB keeps your $24/month sanitation charge (+ your late fee, of course). You are still on the hook for the sanitation charge even though SWB has never informed us of this payment arrangement they have with the Sanitation Department and even though your next and subsequent bills don't show an unpaid sanitation fee balance.
The customer service rep, who was quite courteous and merely communicating SWB's policy, explained to me that, no, they do not show this on your bill. SWB, however, does keep track in your account file.
So, to sum it all up, because of a clandestine payment agreement between SWB and Sanitation:
So tell me, why don't any of the government officials featured in this story seem to know this? And why did Mayor Landrieu's office say they are working with SWB to improve collection efforts when the problem seems to largely be one of internal policies dictating how SWB applies payments it has already received -- not a problem of receiving the fees?