DeKalb citizens unsatisfied with CEO Lee May’s water bill explanationsMolly Badgett listens during a November meeting about DeKalb County water bills. File Photo by Duo-Wei Yang
By Duo-Wei Yang, contributor
Last night’s water bill town hall meeting raised more concerns and provided little relief for those who attended.
DeKalb CEO Lee May led the meeting, first spending 20 minutes to explain the short and long-term solutions to the overcharged water bill issue.
The planned short-term solution is a new disputing process, he says.
“If there’s not a resolution where we agree as a county and you agree as the customer, there’s another process that you can go through to appeal through a third-party,” May said. “And as a part of that process, you will be generated a letter that will confirm you’re officially in dispute.”
The long-term solution is to replace all the water meters in the county.
“We have about four different types of water meters in our system. We ought to have one uniform water meter,” he said.
Newer meters have been installed around DeKalb homes in the past few years, but around 45,000 have been identified to be faulty by the manufacturers themselves.
“We have replaced about 2,000 of those, but that still leaves about 43,000,” May said.
Sixty to 70 percent of the other meters are old and past their period of use.
“[They] were manufactured between 1992 and 1998,” May said. “The lifespan of those water meters are about 15 years. All of those water meters are out of their technical lifespan.”
The Watershed Department plans to replace all meters in four years, but May hopes that the process can be expedited.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to get the new water meters in a year,” he said. “My goal is to get a two-year installment, but it’s going to take some time.”
After May’s run-down of the county’s next steps, Q&A followed, often inciting a flurry of complaints.
When he explained that bills that increased 300 percent or more than the previous month would be automatically noted and taken care of, Jennifer Tate immediately objected.
“I had a crazy bill from $100 to $1,700 and no one proactively did anything,” Jennifer Tate said. “There are two people in the house. You say that those things are happening, but they’re not happening.”
May responded by saying her story wasn’t isolated, which only provoked Tate even more.
“I’m tired of this. This is a waste of my time. What, do I get to invoice you for my time?” she said. “This is totally unacceptable and I feel like tonight is a dog-and-pony show. What are we really going to have happen that’s going to change for all of us? We want real answers.”
John Evans gave his input on how the county should better resolve the billing issues.
“We [need to] go back to everyone’s records and find out what was normal before we started with these increases and malfunctions. Find that out, have them pay that on a regular basis and take the rest of it off until it’s settled,” he said. “And see that extreme cases like bills I’ve heard — $3,000, $5,000 — should be handled that day.”
Evans hoped that everyone at the meeting would end with something concrete, even if they couldn’t help everybody.
“I think we can set the tone so that the county will know that we mean business,” he said. “These people are not playing.”
Molly Badgett says she still feels upset about the water bill situation.
“The whole goal of replacing the meters, it seems to those of us that are looking at this, has been to maybe increase the water bills gradually overtime, — 15 percent, 20 percent — because the old meters are not cutting it,” she said. “Things have really spiraled out of control. These exorbitant bills have hit.”
The billing department, or the “bilking department” as dubbed by the Unbelieveable DeKalb Water Bills Facebook group, isn’t catching all of these high water bills, Badgett says.
“Georgia Power [and] Atlanta Gas all have this program where you can pay the same monthly rate every month — maybe you go under a bit, maybe you go up a bit, but it’s based on your average use,” Badgett said. “Why can’t you install something like that? Maybe take it up about 10 percent, reap what you think you’ve lost with these old meters.”
Badgett also feels that the county’s plan to bring in more personnel to work on this problem
“makes no sense.”
“Every single high water bill is maybe $1,600. You’re going to bring in extra people, customer service, billing, commissioner and you’re probably going to spend about $3,200 for every $1,600 water bill,” she said. “How about pure common sense? It’s insane.”
Badgett had no good words to say about Antrameka Knight who oversees the county’s water and sewer billing.
“I’m sorry, but I’m tired of this. What are you doing in your department? Why aren’t you here tonight answering to people?” she said to Knight. “You’ve known for two years that this is a problem. I was there that time in Brookhaven like you were and I saw you tell people: ‘Well, you know, you’ve got a leak. Or you’re using more water than you realize. Or your water’s been stolen. Or the icemaker was on.’ It’s just bullshit.”