DeKalb stops turning off water service to customers contesting bills

DeKalb temporarily stops disconnecting water

The 11Alive Investigators have found thousands of DeKalb County water customers who were overcharged over the past five years.
Since first airing this story on Sunday, complaints from DeKalb County residents being overcharged hundreds of dollars have kept coming in. Now, one county commissioner says she is fed up, and even just one wrong bill is one too many.
As DeKalb County residents are fed up with their water bills, Star McKenzie is demanding answers. 
“A $300 bill a month for something that should be maybe $40,” she said. 
McKenzie recently started the Facebook group Unbelievable DeKalb Water Bills. 
“We want full transparency from our leaders. if they know what the problem is, share it with us,” she said. 
Her Facebook group is quickly growing.
“It has gone from 50 to 450 in the last two weeks,” she said.
The problem though, is much bigger than this one group.
The 11Alive Investigators found the county incorrectly charged more than 15,000 residents $4.7 million because of defective or bad meter readings over the past five years. 
“You can't have that many leaks in our residential customer base,” McKenzie said. “It just seems like that has been our knee-jerk reaction."
On Tuesday, DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester heard from McKenzie, and called for a moratorium on residential water service disconnections. The county responded quickly, issuing the moratorium. 
DeKalb’s Chief Operating Officer Zachary Williams says there could be several reasons for the billing errors. 
“Let’s reevaluate the entire process of billing,” Williams said. “Let’s reevaluate the meters, the meter reading, the call taking, the billing, our entire process and try to approach it from a standpoint of just pure objectivity.”
But Jester says she has been asking about this problem since she stepped into office in 2014. 
“And I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer,” she said.
She says she is optimistic the new leader of Watershed Management will help, but she says inconsistent management – five different leaders in five years could be part of the problem. 
“I think there has been some competency loss over the years,” Jester said. “Some bad habits that have happened over the years. We have certainly known we have had problems in Watershed.”
The moratorium runs until the end of the year.
Jester says if you have billing issues, you need to contest your bill with the county, or the moratorium will not protect you. 
Those who believe they have incorrect bills can visit the county's center at 774 Jordan Lane in Decatur, or call (404) 378-4475.

(© 2016 WXIA)


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