As county searches for fix, residents drown in water billing issues

DeKalb County resident Kerry Barnett moved to DeKalb County in October of last year. It didn’t take long before she noticed something odd with her water billing.  

After a few months in her new home, Barnett said she did not receive a water bill. Barnett called DeKalb County Watershed Department but after a few more months, still nothing.

Now nearly a year after moving into her new home, Barnett said she is concerned.

“I’m just worried about what kind of bill we might receive and how accurate it might be. I want to know how many gallons we’re going to be billed for,” Barnett said.

Barnett said a representative with the watershed department told her that based on the home’s consumption, the estimated bi-monthly bill for the home would be $188. The representative told her she could pay the bi-monthly estimated price even if she was not receiving a bill.

Barnett said she has been recording her consumption and the county’s numbers are not accurate. Barnett said watershed officials recently called her and assured her that she would receive a bill next month.

“It is a scary feeling,” Barnett said. “According to them, we use about 6,000 gallons, but we only use about two to three thousand gallons a month. I’m just hoping we’re not charged an average of 6,000 gallons because that’s not what I’ve been recording.”

Barnett, like several other DeKalb County residents, are complaining the county has not fixed long-term issues associated with inaccurate billing.

Another DeKalb County resident living in Stone Mountain said she and her husband are having difficulty selling their home due to an outstanding $6,000 bill currently in the dispute resolution process.

“DeKalb’s plumber says no sign of water leak but the water meter is correct. What should I do? It’s been a couple months. The $6,000 was back in March between two bills,” the resident said.

DeKalb County Watershed Customer Service and Billing Advisory Board member Star McKenzie said she’s also concerned about the county’s water meter replacement program.

In 2017, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said approximately 102,000 water meters are at risk of failure. DeKalb County officials said the meter replacement program would begin at the end of 2017 but stalled in 2018.

According to county officials, water meter malfunctions were partially to blame for high water bills.

“The lack of transparency regarding the meter replacement program concerns me, as does the fact that we purchased a $5 million software that can’t guarantee data integrity,” McKenzie said.

According to public records of the county’s request for proposals (RFP) for a water meter upgrade and installation program, the county hopes to replace 25,000 potentially defective water meters per year.

A request for proposals for the water meter program states the county will upgrade and replace meters as well as install radio-read devices or transmitters as part of an advanced metering infrastructure system within the next one to four years.

As of May 2017, the aging water meter population consists of approximately 10,116 manual meters, 113,000 Sensus SR positive displacement meters and 52,197 Sensus SRII ECR meters ranging from an age of 15 to 30 years in age. All meters in this age range are beyond the standard life expectancy and need replacement, according to the county.

In addition to more than 175,000 meters beyond life expectance, more than 49,000 meters are currently seven to 15 years old and will exceed the 15-year useful life expectancy within the four-year contract, according to the RFP.

County officials said there is no specific number of meters allocated for replacement. The county will attempt to replace “as many meters as possible” during the project.

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