Nearly one in five New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board 's (S&WB) customers have challenged their bills since the introduction of the new billing system.
This comes after many were significantly overcharged or sent duplicate invoices.
S&WB has placed the blame with its employees who have been under-trained and who have not taken well to the new billing software rolled out over a year ago.
S&WB president Pro Tem Tamika Duplessis also points to previous managers, many of whom were forced out following last summer’s floods.
“A lack of investment in training and support for our staff under previous leadership doomed the Cogsdale system’s accuracy rate,” wrote Duplessis, “we must rectify this immediately.”
The City Council has been demanding answers regarding the billing problems which the public utility has encountered since the Cogsdale system was rolled out in October 2016.
There is currently a backlog of more than 7,000 disputed billing statements and officials are investigating potentially erroneous charges in 21 of the 25 largest unpaid bills.
“Much energy has been spent questioning and criticising the software provided by ... Cogsdale to replace the board’s antiquated, homemade mainframe billing system. It was a logical target,” Duplessis wrote.
“Further investigation by senior leadership at the board, however, unearthed a simpler, but more troubling, trend: The software works, but only if our employees know how to use it,” she wrote.
Employees who originally received training on the system are no longer employed at S&WB. The Council is exerting pressure to train the new staff on identifying billing problems, in spite of the additional costs involved.
Duplessis also blamed employees’ “loyalty” to the old billing software and their skepticism about the new system.
“We must ease that discomfort,” Duplessis said. “That is why current leadership is so adamant that we must invest in our people through training, not in chasing any perceived software shortcomings.”
The direct cost of the software and services purchased from Cogsdale was $6.5 million, including about $1.7 million to upgrade the S&WB’s payroll system.