SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Shreveport residents who claim they’ve been overcharged for water are a bit happier after a judge ruled that the city for years has been overbilling them.
In fact, many of the 66,000 water and sewer customers might still not know about the ruling.
KSLA News 12 is told they will be notified shortly.
Several factors are getting the blame for the overcharging, including the billing software.
It apparently only rounds numbers up, inflating the true cost; that’s a practice the city still employs.
During our reporting, KSLA News 12 came across Shreveport retiree Fred Blackwell, a 70-year-old Navy veteran who said he’s noticed the increase in his water and sewer bill in recent years.
But Blackwell described himself as powerless to do anything about it.
"There's nothing I can, what, what can you do? What can you do? There's nothing you can do."
But after two long years of legal maneuvering, Caddo District Court Judge Mike Pitman ruled Monday that Shreveport must refund water and sewer customers.
It's a huge victory for Shreveport attorney Jerry Harper, who represents all those city water customers.
According to Harper, they’re hoping for an award of about $25 million for more than a decade of overbilling.
If you divide that by 66,000, that comes to nearly $400 per customer.
Harper said they had been hoping to get those refunds to their clients sooner rather than later.
“If the city really wanted to resolve this, we could get checks into the hands of residents by Christmas.”
Fred Blackwell liked the sound of that.
"Oh yes. (laugh) Especially for retirees that's on a fixed income."
While that timing now appears unlikely, Harper concluded that the judge’s ruling is still a major step forward.
Lloyd Thompson, president of the NAACP’s Shreveport branch, agrees.
“I wanted justice to be given to every citizen of Shreveport, but especially those folks who are striving just to try to pay day-to-day bills.”
But even now, Harper said, customers still are being overbilled.
He said he plans to file an injunction in the coming days to get the city to stop that practice.
Harper recalled that in 2017 they tried to avoid filing the civil lawsuit against the city.
"We said in our letters that we would do it at our own expense. And this would prevent a lawsuit from being filed," began Harper.
"And our letter was ignored again by the city. And they would not try to resolve the matter with us."
Harper explained that even after they filed suit, they’ve still approached the city more than a dozen times to settle this matter out of court.
“The mayors, first Mayor Tyler and to this point at least, Mayor Perkins, have been unwilling to sit down with us once to discuss that matter.”
Shreveport city attorney Mekisha Smith Creal released a statement that, in part, reads:
"We want to ensure that Shreveport citizens are treated fairly, while avoiding disruptions to operations."
The statement continued:
“No final financial judgment has been reached at this time. We are currently exploring the legal remedies available.”