DeKalb temporarily stops water service disconnections after 11Alive investigation

DeKalb Co. temporarily stops disconnecting water

DECATUR, Ga. -- After an 11Alive investigation, residents with contested water bills in DeKalb County will not have their service disconnected this year.

Interim CEO Lee May issued a moratorium of residential water service disconnections because of too many incorrect water bills.

“I have always said that one incorrect water bill is too many, and we have a number of issues that could factor into many errors on bills,” said Interim CEO Lee May said in a statement.  “We must ensure that the process is accurate, and we have to err on the side of caution until we are confident that it is.”

The moratorium applies to residents who have contested bills through the county's Utility Customer Operations Center. Those who believe they have incorrect bills can visit the center at 774 Jordan Lane in Decatur, or call (404) 378-4475.

The disputes will reportedly be reviews by an "independent third party," according to the release.

In the meantime, customer with disputes on file will be required to pay their average bill through the end of 2016.

DeKalb County is in the middle of replacing its current meters with new smart meters, which are read electronically. Smart meters are expected to reduce the risk of human error.

That replacement project is expected to take another two and a half years.

An 11Alive investigation was spurred after a homeowner was hit with a $10,000 water bill and then another $19,000 bill.

According to records obtained by the 11Alive Investigators, the county has incorrectly charged 15,753 residents over the past five years. That equals more than $4.7 million in bad billing due to involving defective or bad meter readings.

More on the investigation, here.

But residents of DeKalb County like Star McKenzie told 11Alive they still need answers.

"We want full transparency from our leaders," she said. "If they know what the problem is, share it with us."

Since the issue came up, McKenzie started a Facebook group spotlighting "unbelievable DeKalb water bills." The group is quickly growing -- ballooning from 50 people to 450 in the last two weeks.

On Tuesday, DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester heard from McKenzie before calling for the moratorium. She told 11Alive's Joe Henke that she's been asking about the meter problems since she stepped into office in 2014, but has "yet to receive a satisfactory answer." 

While she said she's optimistic about the new leadership in DeKalb's Watershed Management, inconsistent management and having five different leaders in five years could be part of the problem. 

"I think there has been some competency loss over the years, some bad habits that have happened over the years," she said. "We have certainly known we have had problems in watershed."

Jester told 11Alive if customers have billing issues, they need to contest it with the county, or the moratorium won't protect them. The regulation remains in place until the end of the year.


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