Residents organize townhall to tackle ongoing water billing issues
A group of DeKalb citizens who say the water billing crisis in the county is far from over are demanding DeKalb County officials take responsibility – and action – to fix ongoing problems and stop water billing errors.
“We’ve been going to public county meetings to get some answers, but the agenda and conversation was always driven by the county,” said Star McKenzie, who started the Unbelievable DeKalb Water Bills Facebook group. “We decided to host a townhall that is different and not run by the county because I am contacted on a daily basis from residents still experiencing water issues.”
Approximately 40 people attended the townhall and were joined by DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry and State Rep. Viola Davis. At the meeting, McKenzie provided examples of the ongoing water-related issues stemming from faulty meters, poor customer service, and mismanagement that has led to some residents receiving monthly water bills in the hundreds or thousands.
“CEO Michael Thurmond ran his election campaign on fixing these issues and pointed directly to leadership issues as the problem, but the mismanagement continues today,” said McKenzie. “Why should problems that stem from the county’s mistakes be paid by residents? The root causes of these problems still remain unaddressed.”
The group wants DeKalb County officials to take the following actions:
• Reinstate the moratorium on water disconnections and lien placements. “The moratorium must return so that Dekalb
• County solves these problems without sending more families into debt,” stated group members.
• Define the dispute and arbitration process.
• Cancel all water debt.
“Residents should not be held responsible for water that we have not used,” said group officials. “It is the responsibility of DeKalb County executives to right this wrong.”
At the townhall, Terry and Davis spoke about ways for individuals to get water billing issues resolved as well as efforts in the county – and the state – to fix water billing issues.
“I’ve been following this issue for many years,” said Terry. “I feel confident that when it comes to future contracts that come before the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWI) that we have an independent auditing agency there to work for us and ask those important questions. Following up on those contracts is also important. We have to make sure once the contract is awarded that we are checking in with the process. It is a part of our plan to go back and verify that the work is being done correctly.”
Terry said upcoming changes include going from a two-month water billing cycle to a one-month water billing cycle and the installation of new software that will allow residents can go online and check their water usage in real time.
“Right now, there is no way to go online and check what’s going on,” said Terry. “We’ve been assured once our new software system is in place that individual customers will be able to log on and see a day-to-day dashboard of your usage.”
The software is expected to be operational and accessible later this year, according to officials.
Davis, who shared her own story of fighting the county over an inaccurate $500 water bill, said she and others are working on legislation to give condominium owners or those within a property owners association the right to access all financial documents.
She said she is also working on legislation to ensure that taxes are paid toward property first before the money would go to any fees or fines.
“Some people paying their taxes find that instead, what is being paid is on water or sewer fees which can then end up jeopardizing their property,” said Davis. “Your fees should not be paid before your taxes.”
Davis asked anyone who lives in a condominium that has separate water meters and is experiencing water billing issues to contact her at RepViolaDavis@gmail.com.
“We’re trying to build a movement and build back up that momentum we had back in 2015-16 which led to the moratorium,” said group member Foluke Nunn. “We are demanding what we want because we’re entitled to that. It’s our money and our tax dollars.”
For more information, search for Unbelievable DeKalb Water Bills on Facebook.