Water billing board awaiting appointments

Water billing board awaiting appointments

It’s been more than five months since the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners approved to create a Watershed Customer Service and Billing Advisory Group.

According to county documents, the board of commissioners voted to create an advisory group on Feb. 28 so residents “can assist the Department of Watershed Management in addressing complaints and problems with existing billing problems, ongoing customer service complaints and the meter replacement program that the county is currently undertaking.”

 As of July 20, the board is awaiting four appointment positions by CEO Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb Municipal Association, Commissioner Steve Bradshaw and Commissioner Gregory Adams.

 The Champion contacted the office of Adams but did not receive a response by press time.

 An official in Bradshaw’s office said the commissioner is still looking for a nomination. Bradshaw’s Chief of Staff, Alesia Brooks, said a timeline has not been established for when Bradshaw will make a nomination.

 “[Bradshaw] thinks it’s an important board and we’re actively recruiting on our social media pages and looking for recommendations. So far, we’ve had one application,” Brooks said.

 According to the office of the CEO, Thurmond “is interviewing several highly qualified candidates and should make a selection within the next two weeks.”

 According to the resolution, the board members are responsible for remaining educated and informed about the county’s billing policy, provide input and advice on how best to address customer service issues, discuss project implementation of new meters and provide insight and advice on water and sewer billing and meter issues.

 Gaye Stathis, who was appointed by Commissioner Nancy Jester, said she was reluctant to join the board at first. Now Stathis is unsure what the next step will be, she said.

 “When they asked for availability, I sent a response at least two weeks ago and I haven’t heard anything back. We haven’t had any meetings or scheduled any meetings,” Stathis said. “I know the commissioners fought hard to get a citizens advisory committee and get representation and they finally did get that official approval and then trying to find a date and get a meeting has been a long time coming.”

 Stathis said she’s had to deal with her own issues of “ridiculously high water bills.” For a family of two with no swimming pool Stathis and her husband would pay between $700 and $800 for a two-month billing cycle.

 “We probably overpaid $5,000 to $6,000 that DeKalb County Watershed was not entitled to,” Stathis said. “Why does DeKalb County have this nightmare of water billing?”

 Star McKenzie, who was one of the first DeKalb residents appointed to the board, will serve until Dec. 31, 2018.

 McKenzie said the advisory board should be used to give residents a voice in local government.

 “Do I think the [advisory board] is going to fix a mess that’s been brewing for decades? No, I’ve been dealing with this long enough to realize that’s a pipe dream. But, it gives a handful of residents an opportunity to represent DeKalb taxpayers, to be heard and to demand answers,” McKenzie said. “We’ve felt ignored and silenced throughout much of this crisis…always waiting for the next town hall to find out what’s going on. With the advisory board in place at least they have to listen to our input on a regular basis.”

 McKenzie is the founder of the Facebook group Unbelievable DeKalb Water Bills. The group, which has more than 2,500 members, lends support to DeKalb residents dealing with water billing issues.

 McKenzie said she and Commissioner Jeff Rader’s office have contacted the administration to see what is needed to call a first meeting and have not gotten a response.

 “Commissioner Rader is working with Commissioner [Kathie] Gannon as presiding officer to draft a letter to appointees to call the first meeting. The politics of the delay are frustrating,” McKenzie said. “Thurmond’s lack of urgency regarding residents’ need for a voice feels less like a ‘new day’ and more like the old days.”

 Once the board is functioning, the advisory group is authorized to create committees to study various water billing issues and make reports.

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