More customer service representatives are answering the phones, and there are more technicians in the field. The county has a four-year plan to replace 102,000 water meters and is implementing a new billing system.
“Like the neglected infrastructure, confidence in DeKalb County has eroded over the past two decades and cannot be restored in one year,” Thurmond said. “It will take a day-by-day, month-by-month effort by myself and our 6,000 employees.”
DeKalb residents who have received high water bills tell their stories during public comment at a Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 20, 2018. (TIA MITCHELL/TIA.MITCHELL@AJC.COM)
Thurmond points out that the vast majority of 194,000 residential and commercial customers have no issues with their water bills. Still, the people who showed up to Tuesday's meeting and shared fresh stories caused Commissioner Kathie Gannon to rethink her assumptions.
Gannon’s office no longer receives as many calls from frustrated customers. Now, she wonders if there may be blind spots that remain.
“It was very disheartening for me to hear that for so many people the problem has not gotten fixed,” she said.
Gannon said she believes the Board of Commissioners needs to be more vigilant and require Thurmond to come up with timelines for implementing more changes. She also wants to analyze an audit of the water billing system to identify which recommendations were embraced and which have been shelved.
For example, Thurmond hasn't acted on an audit suggestion that DeKalb combine separate water billing and watershed departments.
Thurmond has focused on improving communication. Last year, he held a series of public meetings to update customers on progress made.
Antrameka Knight, who oversees the county’s water and sewer billing, has helped implement new procedures for dealing with complaints. Once they are logged, customers receive letters with answers to frequently asked questions. They are assigned a case worker who helps with scheduling appointments and follow ups.
Once the issues are resolved, another letter goes out.
“We’re optimistic that those additional items will help people know what we are doing,” Knight said.