SADOW: Unfunded Mandate Hits Northwest LA Residents Hardest

Concerning water issues, not only do Shreveport and Bossier City residents have to worry about the fiscal health of their city-run water utilities, but also many now must face an unfunded mandate in the hundreds of dollars annually despite the best efforts of the state senator who represents both cities and may impact elections this fall.

This week, the Louisiana Department of Health issued grades to water systems through 2022. Using an extensive rubric, all in the state received a score from 0 to 100 (technically 110, as bonus points were awarded to those systems with an asset management plan). Shreveport didn’t fare that well, scoring only 75. It lost half of the 10 points available for fiscal sustainability, all 20 for infrastructure, and all 10 for customer satisfaction (a point off for each valid complaint about the system water quality or quantity). Without the bonus for the plan, it would have scored among the bottom 15 percent of systems in the state.

Its deficiencies don’t surprise. Woefully behind on fixing long-identified shortcomings that led to a consent decree with the federal government about a decade ago, the city remains hundreds of millions of dollars away from finishing required repairs within the next four years, so far behind partially because elected officials hesitated in raising water and waste fees due to the political unpopularity of that response.

For its part, Bossier City scored 95, also losing the maximum for customer service but gaining that back from having an asset management plan. It also received just half credit for sustainability, which at first glance might seem odd as its utility’s financial situation is much better than Shreveport’s. But it might have been gigged over a recent water deal with the Port of Caddo-Bossier that could put ratepayers on the hook for an estimated $62 million without receiving any asset in return.

Even though its City Council approved of the deal only last month, by their rhetoric city officials admitted they had included the deal, despite its being months away from that approval, as supporting evidence in a grant application with the state last year, and thusly may have done the same in submitting data for the grading. The state may have included that potential future liability to dock the city points.

Water and sewerage rates in both cities may increase in the future, due to Shreveport’s laxity in fixing problems and Bossier City signing on to a bad deal. Yet of immediate concern is a potential $150 to $350 charge homeowners in both cities with a fountain, swimming pool, or lawn irrigation system will have to foot annually.

Louisiana law requires adherence to the International Residential Code in its own construction code, unless exceptions are made. That code (Title 51: XII sec. 344), which actually defaults to Uniform Construction Code (Section 312.10.2) strictures in the state’s administrative code (Title 17: I sec. 111), specifies that a number of individual connections to a water system, including underground to a fountain or pool or to subterranean sprinklers, must have backflow prevention device to keep cross contamination from external sources infiltrating the system. Further, testing of this must occur every year.

That has been promulgated for about two decades but the state hadn’t thought to enforce it until last year, when LDH began informing systems they must require residents with any of the above appurtenances to follow this. When checking out new construction of this nature, a city will charge a builder an inspection fee; for example, Bossier City’s is $35.

However, the going price in the private sector far exceeds that, and when Shreveport and Bossier City residents began receiving notices that they had to foot these bills within the next several months, according to Republican state Sen. Barrow Peacock his phone rang off the hook.

Advertisement

Peacock just as the regular session kicked off filed SB 211. Since state law required following the IRC unless carving out portions, the bill was worded to prevent the state from enforcing that specific annual inspection part of the IRC insofar as residences but allowing local governments to enforce that if they so chose.

At the hearing of the bill last month before the Senate’s Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committee, senators seemed a bit incredulous about Peacock’s solution. As a whole, they claimed to have heard little if nothing about this, which may be due to geography and climate as in the state northwest Louisiana runs by a few degrees the hottest July temperatures and by a few inches the least amount of annual rainfall, thereby increasing the proportion of households there likely to have sprinkler systems.

Senators also appeared flummoxed at a solution. While understanding that backflow needed prevention but that the burden would be significant on homeowners who just wanted to keep lawns from withering, there seemed to be sentiment towards spacing out inspections by several years, but the all-or-nothing nature of state code – either it had to accept IRC standards or waive these – seemed to disallow that solution.

With only Peacock having any kind of in-depth knowledge about the issue, the panel decided to punt on the matter by deferring the bill. Peacock concluded by saying that this wasn’t the last they would hear about the issue.

Whether the Legislature makes changes next year, a number of homeowners are stuck with a new significant bill for this year. For example, Bossier City is rolling out its enforcement starting in City Council District 1, represented by Republican Brian Hammons. He lives within the boundaries of a homeowners association of 100 houses where the organization requires an irrigation system. Failure to have the inspection, according to state code, requires the water system to cut off distribution to that location.

At the same time, plumbers will realize this is a gold mine of revenue and will push legislators not to change anything. Caught in the middle will be local elected officials, who will get blamed for this by constituents out hundreds of dollars each year but whom aren’t responsible for that and can’t do anything about it. It might be an issue that flows back into both legislative and parish commission or police jury contests this fall.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Interested in more news from Louisiana? We've got you covered! See More Louisiana News
Previous Article
Next Article

Trending on The Hayride