DeKalb sets short, long-term goals to address water billing crisis

February 23, 20174min1280
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DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond provided an update on the county’s water billing crisis, promising to improve customer service and billing within the next 90 days.

Thurmond and staff members rolled out his “A New Day In DeKalb” plan to address the county’s water problems, outlining short and long-term solutions during a special-called meeting with commissioners, residents and the media.  Thurmond said 37,000 customers’ bills have been held since last fall as county officials sought to determine if the bills were accurate or inaccurate due to faulty meters, meter readers, data entry mistakes or even the customers themselves through usage.

He said customers’ whose issues have been resolved would soon begin receiving bills for the January and February billing cycles.  The CEO did not offer a specific plan, however, for the bills that have been held since last fall. He said the disconnection moratorium would be extended and  reviewed at the end of March

Thurmond acknowledged that holding the bills was a mistake because some customers may not have the money now to pay the bills that were held through no fault of their own.

“We were rushing to create a solution and created another level of problems,” Thurmond said.

Commissioner Jeff Rader said he would like to try to come up with a payment plan for those who don’t have all the money to pay up front and he said the Board of Commissioners would discuss the issue more.

Thurmond reiterated there is no quick fix for all of the problems, but promised to continue tackling the root causes. He said while some of the problems will be addressed in the next 90 days, others would take two or three years to fix. He pointed out that the county must do a better job of communicating with customers. He said the water and sewer rates, for example, have increased 212 percent since 2007.

“The increase in bills may not be due to an incorrect reading, but the fact rates have gone up but the fact that rates have gone up. Same consumption, higher rate, higher bill,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond said he also plans to address providing additional staff in the water department, more training and higher salaries.

“The increase in bills may not be due to an incorrect reading, but the fact rates have gone up but the fact that rates have gone up. Same consumption, higher rate, higher bill,” Thurmond said.

The county Water Department has about 190,000 customers and escalating water bills have been an ongoing complaint in the county for years.

Last year, DeKalb officials set up a dispute resolution team to study each overcharge and placed a moratorium on water disconnects until they resolve the problems.

Thurmond said the county plans to launch a pilot program with third-party meditators to resolve billing issues that cannot be resolved internally. You can view the “A New Day In DeKalb” plan at http://bit.ly/2miwyWv.

 

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