Water leak policy change might help city, customers alike

Deidre Cruse

The Plaquemine Board of Selectmen next week will consider more efficient procedures for handling water leaks that could also help some customers stay current paying their utility bills.

“About 70 percent of our customers that we cut off that stay off involve water bills,” Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta told the city council at last week’s committee meeting.

He also asked the city council to appropriate $500 for students at St. John and Plaquemine high schools to develop an exhibit for the City Light and Water office to show how much water can be wasted by a drop.

Water drips not only cost customers money, but also waste the city’s water supply and create an additional burden for the city’s sewage treatment plants, in addition to costing customers money.

Gulotta cited the instance of a woman whose water bill had run to $150 in a month because of a hot water pipe leaking in a wall. Since sewer rates are based on water consumption, the customer also had a $150 bill for sewerage service. Since it was a hot water leak, the customer’s natural gas bill went up, as well.

“She was fixing to get cut off basically because she had a water leak,” the mayor said.

Over the last three months, Gulotta has been working to help customers identify water leaks. He said the City Light and Water staff had identified all water bills of $60 or more. Of the 300 in that category, 200 were found to have leaks.

“If our water bill is over $25, you normally have a problem,” the mayor said, noting that the average city water bill is $22 a month.

The city can help locate the source of the problem, but cannot make repairs except on city lines.

Under current policy, the city will reimburse customers for water lost to leaks, but only if the customer provides certification of the repair from a plumber, the mayor said.

“If you’re able-bodied, and you can repair an $8 [flapper], you can’t get reimbursed,” he said.

Also, some tenants have had difficulties getting their landlords to provide certification of a repair.

Gulotta said he wanted cut through the red tape and allow the city to certify that a leak has been repaired as a way to speed up the reimbursement process.

Gulotta said he also wanted to eliminate the part of the old policy requiring water service to be cut off if a leak has not been repaired within 10 days.

“We have used it as leverage with landlords,” he said. “We haven’t cut one off yet. Normally, they get on it in two to three days.”

It is not part of city policy to require a known leak to be fixed before the city will hook up utility service to a building, but he has made the requirement by executive order, the mayor said.

The city council is expected to consider the changes at its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.