DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond announced he has lifted the county’s 5-year-old water service disconnection moratorium for residential water accounts, effective July 1, meaning customers with outstanding bills can have their water cut off then.
Due to some customers getting high water bills and others not receiving any bills at all some months because of faulty water meters, the moratorium was established in October 2016 by interim CEO Lee May. It continued in January 2017 when Thurmond took office. DeKalb has 102,000 residential water customers.
“Restoring trust by understanding the root cause of the billing problems, taking corrective actions and being responsive to customer concerns has been our goal,” Thurmond said in a news release. “We have learned from past mistakes but we did not dwell on it. I was hired by the citizens of DeKalb County to fix a problem and that has been done.”
Customers whose ability to pay has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will get extended payment arrangements. Known as the New Day Project, the initiative to solve this problem has made tremendous strides during the past four years to correct the issue, including:
♦ Disputed water bills have decreased from 4,000 complaints to less than 200.
♦ 37,000 “held” bills that previously could not be verified were released.
♦ 82,000 defective and out-of-lifecycle water meters have been replaced.
♦ 134,000 meters, representing 70% of all customers, have been fitted with electronic transmitters to ensure timely, accurate readings.
♦ Nearly two dozen professional staff were hired and trained.
“Staffing, processes and assignment changes were put in place to remove silos and enhance communication and coordination between departments,” Thurmond said.
But some residents are skeptical the county’s water-billing issues have been completely resolved. Unbelievable DeKalb Water Bills, a Facebook group created just to address the problem, has about 4,600 members.
“Lifting the disconnect moratorium in July is a premature course of action by the county,” Star McKenzie said in a message posted to the group’s page. “The commissioners and CEO’s office better staff up because their phones are going to be ringing 2016 style when the water disconnects and unpaid balance collections start again.
“What do you think the county needs to do prior to discontinuing the moratorium? For example: implement and move all customers to the ($)500 million billing software we invested in years ago; explain the collections process for unpaid bills and for those paying average bills who are in dispute; provide financial assistance programs.”
In reaction to another member posting a video of WSB-TV’s report on the moratorium being lifted, Jennifer Tate said, “(Thurmond) wants to ‘restore public trust in government officials,’” adding three laughing emojis at the end.
For more information on how to pay your water bill, visit https://golevel1.com/client/DeKalb/.