DeKalb awaits solution for backbilling of water services

DeKalb commissioners gathered Thursday to hear an update on solutions to the county’s water billing issues. Martha Michael /

Credit: Martha Michael /

Credit: Martha Michael /

DeKalb commissioners gathered Thursday to hear an update on solutions to the county’s water billing issues. Martha Michael /

Slowly but surely, DeKalb County is resolving its water billing issues for 35,000 customers whose bills were identified as inaccurate last fall.

Since April the county has reviewed and released 8,000 of those bills and only 20 bills have been disputed - progress for a county trying to resolve a problem a decade in the making, CEO Michael Thurmond said at a meeting with county commissioners on Thursday.

Homeowners received incorrect bills for thousands of dollars.

Some of those disputes are the result of startlingly high bills, but Thurmond reassured customers that they will not be penalized for any errors DeKalb made in billing. Customers should be aware, however, that if they owed a valid balance before October 2016, that balance may be reflected onto the customer's current bill, he said.

Because DeKalb still lacks an official solution for backbilling, the county is focusing on billing for only the most current billing period. "Our goal is to have our 184,000 customers receiving regular bills monthly or bimonthly. No decision has been made by administration about backbilling," Thurmond said.

Commissioner Nancy Jester said without a backbilling solution problems will extend far beyond the amount of a bill. "I'm concerned about legitimacy of bills. We need way to solve problem of someone selling their home, then getting a bill for thousands of dollars and we are telling people they don't owe anything, then a lien placed on the house is given to new residents."

Meanwhile, improvements such as a revamped customer service center, identifying and replacing thousands of faulty water meters, and correcting exorbitant bills are providing relief. A new $5 million billing software system is expected to be installed by the end of 2018 to replace the county's 15-year-old system.

"We are trying to eliminate our reliance on vendors, but to the extent that we should be able to run our own system, that's our goal going forward," said John Matelski, DeKalb's chief information officer and director of Innovation and Technology.

In order to restore trust long term, Commissioner Kathie Gannon stressed the need for a standard operating procedure that will "prevent this sort of problem going forward."

Thurmond encouraged customers to dispute a bill if they feel it is unfair. Questions and concerns about water bills can be directed to DeKalb County Utility Customer Operations Service Center, 774 Jordan Lane, Suite 200, Decatur, between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, or by phone at 404-378-4475 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays.