DeKalb County officials provide updates after end of water disconnection moratorium

DeKalb County officials said that they are seeing positive results working with residents to resolve unpaid water bills, but there are more than 7,000 people who have not made payments in several months or years.

The board of commissioners and CEO Michael Thurmond participated in a virtual meeting recently to discuss updates since the end of the county-wide water service disconnection moratorium on Sept. 1.

“Once there was talk of lifting the moratorium, we were able to work with the vast majority who were delinquent and had outstanding bills. What we’re dealing with now honestly are those who have been nonresponsive,” said Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson.

The county laid out multiple pathways for customers to avoid service disconnection, including requesting an installment payment agreement, requesting a COVID-19 hardship installment plan or disputing bills. According to Thurmond, though, the county is not to the point of disconnecting water.

“I promised the board and the people of DeKalb that we will alert the public to where we are in this process. We will be back in front of the board and document what we’ve done and let [the public] know [when disconnections start up again] but that day has not yet arrived,” he said.

Thurmond said the focus now is on a communication plan to reach customers who have had no payments in the last six billing cycles and have not begun the process of a payment agreement, plan or dispute.

Next steps include mail, doorhangers, outbound calls and intensifying communications when leaks or other problems arise, stated officials.

Engagement peaked on Aug. 31 when the water billing department received 2,355 calls – the day before the moratorium expired.

DeKalb County Chief Operating Officer Zack Williams said the county plans to work with small businesses that may need utility payment plans as well. He also stated that a number of outstanding water bills have been resolved through the county’s Tenant-Landlord Assistance Coalition (TLAC) program which provides financial assistance to eligible households to pay for rent and utilities.

“By Sept. 10 we had paid some $380,000 in utilities through TLAC and I’m sure that number is over $400,000 now,” said Thurmond. “We don’t want to disconnect a single customer, that’s not our goal here. However, we must ensure every customer pays his or her fair share. We have to invest in our water and sewer systems.”

For more information or to view payment plan options, visit www.dekalbcountyga.gov or e-mail dekalbwaterbillingfn@dekalbcountyga.gov.

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