DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis tries to remedy water bill complaints as his term ends

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 28, 2016

DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis has returned to work this week after his conviction on public corruption charges was overturned. Photo provided to Decaturish

With days remaining in his term, DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis moved to address a mess that has been brewing since he went to prison on public corruption charges.

In a move announced on Dec. 28, Ellis said some customers with disputed bills will receive new ones in an attempt to resolve any lingering disputes. Questions about inaccurate bills or bills delayed by months have led to heated confrontations between residents and county officials during town hall meetings. Due to the high number of disputes, the county temporarily halted disconnections to sort through the issues being reported.

In a letter to residents, Ellis wrote, “The bills of those customers whose statements were withheld, or accounts that have been otherwise identified as containing questionable information, will be released to these customers beginning Friday, Dec. 30. These bills will include an estimate based upon the average usage over the past 12 billing cycles (discarding the highest and lowest statements in this period).”

The letter says customers won’t be back-billed if their usage exceeds the estimated amount.

The letter also says, “Customers will also be given 12 months to pay any bill that was withheld from a normal statement mailing by DeKalb County from September-December 2016. (This does not include any outstanding balance that was billed prior to September, or any bill that was mailed as scheduled).”

The letter doesn’t say how many residents will receive new bills, but implies it could be several hundred. The letter says there are 5,700 customers enrolled in a dispute resolution program. Ellis’ letters says 1,300 of these customers will receive the revised statements.

Ellis’ conviction was recently overturned by the state Supreme Court, restoring Ellis as the county’s CEO for a mere three weeks before his term ends on Dec. 31. He will be succeeded by Michael Thurmond. Since Ellis returned to power, he’s been on a victory tour of sorts. He’s held a press conference and issued numerous press releases as his days as the county’s CEO draw to a close.

In his letter, Ellis┬ásaid some of the billing issues were caused by “inaccurate data in our billing software” that overwhelmed county employees.

“The inaccurate data stems from our transition from outdated meters to newer technology,” Ellis wrote. “In many instances, the data which was supposed to identify newer technology meters was lost, causing the billing software to ‘misread’ information from the traditional meter. Before August 2016, our staff had been making thousands of manual adjustments in every billing cycle to restore statement accuracy.

“By August 2016, the number of accounts with data issues exceeded the ability of staff to correct them in time for billing. As a result, DeKalb County began withholding all statements that may have had data issues. The root causes of those data issues have now been identified, and those previously withheld bills will now be mailed out.”

Here is Ellis’ full letter:

CEO Ellis Open Letter

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