DeKalb needs manager in charge of water billing fixes, auditors say

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DeKalb needs manager in charge of water billing fixes, auditors say

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The DeKalb Audit Oversight Committee listened to a presentation of an audit of the county's water billing problems on Aug. 11, 2017. From left: Harmel Codi, Gena Major, Monica Miles and Harold Smith. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

DeKalb’s government should put someone in charge of making sure that a plan to fix the county’s inaccurate water billing system becomes a reality.

That was the message delivered Friday by financial services firm KPMG, which conducted an audit that recommended 22 ways to eliminate the county’s pervasive problem with high bills. The audit suggested replacing water meters, upgrading technology and changing management structures.

“Where the county is now is it’s at a crossroads,” said David Roberts, managing director for KPMG, in a presentation to the DeKalb Audit Oversight Committee. “Our report has a road map to transform its operations. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

The 127-page audit said the county should assign a mid-level manager or staffer to be responsible for implementing each recommendation. The audit also called for the county to establish a project management office to oversee implementation.

“A formal governance framework is needed with clear lines of authority,” Roberts said. “This is important to the citizens to know that the county is taking action. The more formal, the more transparent, the better.”

The effort to revamp the county’s water billing system includes two major projects: changing about 102,000 old or potentially defective meters, and installing new billing software. Those jobs will take two or more years to finish and cost millions of dollars.

The audit, which cost $275,000, also recommended merging water metering and billing departments, ending reliance on paper-based processes for meter set-up, strengthening oversight of contractors and upgrading meter reading equipment.

“We have pretty good knowledge now about what’s causing the problem,” said Gena Major, a member of the Audit Oversight Committee. “People want their bills addressed now.”

DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond’s administration must provide a response to the audit in the coming weeks, according to the law that created the Audit Oversight Committee.

Thurmond said last month he's reviewing the audit, which confirmed the need for new meters, better customer service and upgraded technology.

The county is starting the “New Day Project” where 102,000 new water meters will be purchased and installed across the county.

Read DeKalb's water billing audit presentation

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