Meter Mess: DeKalb Co. incorrectly charged residents millions

DeKalb water bill woes

If you stepped inside Diana Hoag’s kitchen this past August, you’d think there was a hurricane on the way. The DeKalb County homeowner has dozens of water bottles stored in every cabinet. 

“I have more stashed in my bedroom closet where the dogs are,” said the former teacher.

Hoag stored the water because she worried DeKalb County would turn her water off at any moment after refusing to pay $10,000 water bill she says was wrong.

”I kept telling them, ‘It’s not a leak. You’ve got to listen to me.’ And, they wouldn’t listen to me,” said Hoag.

Latroya Sampson received an even bigger water bill from DeKalb County. Over the summer, she received a $19,000 water bill.

“I mean, who has a $19,000 water bill except for Six Flags, or Disney World or White Water? Not me,” said Sampson.

She’s right.  It wasn’t her or Hoag’s fault. It turns out both were incorrectly charged by DeKalb County due to water meter reading errors.

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.

“It is a lot of money and any one is too much,” said Burke Brennen, DeKalb County’s press secretary in an interview.

”The reality is as a part of the whole, it’s a small percentage and it’s getting smaller and we still have work to do,” said Brennan.

Brennen argues most of the incorrect charges were never collected from residents and the errors don’t impact the county’s budget.

Some believe the county is down-playing the problem. William Perry is president of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs. He thinks the incorrect billing illustrates a bigger issue.

”I think the problem is, these are the ones they know about. I would be willing to bet there are thousands they don’t know about,” said Perry.

According to a 2015 audit of the county’s water system, “meters into its distribution system are installed incorrectly…and therefore not guaranteed to be accurate.” The final audit grade – 61 out of 100. It’s the county’s lowest grade in five years.

“We’ve had a little bit of a leadership change in the watershed department. We’ve been re-evaluating all of our processes; we’ve been re-evaluating all of our reporting.”

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.

(© 2016 WXIA)


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