Audit criticizes St. Gabriel over uncollected fees

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A state audit released this week criticized the city of St. Gabriel for having a “significant amount” of unpaid customer sewer bills — some of which were for city employees.
The audit cites St. Gabriel for disregarding the public bid laws by not securing enough bid proposals before purchasing a vehicle at a cost of more than $30,000.
The audit says delinquent sewer bills have been an ongoing issue for the city because St. Gabriel lacks the proper controls and oversight to effectively monitor its monthly billings and receipts.
Mayor Lionel Johnson said Tuesday that the city has nearly $350,000 worth of unpaid residential sewer bills. He said about $106,000 of the outstanding bills are linked to inactive accounts for former residents.
Out of the city’s 874 customer accounts, the mayor said, 310 have past due balances totaling $240,000.
Johnson said only five delinquent accounts belonged to city employees.
“This has been a long-standing problem,” he said. “Our problem is: We only have control over sewer. Water service is a parish-run utility. If you don’t pay your water bill, the parish cuts you off. If you don’t pay your sewer bill, we have no way of shutting you off.”
Iberville Parish took over the city’s water service in September 2012 when it abolished Waterworks District No. 2 after an audit of the water district exposed financial irregularities that included unaccounted-for funds, approximately $80,000 in unpaid invoices and questionable payouts to former employees.
Johnson said Tuesday that the city intends to finally address the issue of its outstanding sewer bills through a partnership with the parish.

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