Thousands of residents have protested inexplicably high water bills for years, and Thurmond said he’s working on a comprehensive plan to ensure bills are correct.
Meanwhile, the county's ability to handle more businesses and residents is threatened by sewer limitations, with a decades-old system that in some areas lacks the ability to handle the additional load. The county government, which is in the middle of a $1.35 billion sewer infrastructure upgrade project, is still evaluating the extent of the capacity problems.
“Greed, self-interest, narrow-minded political gamesmanship, us versus them, me versus you, has brought us to this disturbing place where the integrity of our water billing system has been damaged and the capacity of our sewer system to support future business is in question,” Thurmond said.
He called for an end to divisiveness and the beginning of collaboration to improve the county.
Thurmond, a former state labor commissioner and DeKalb schools superintendent, won election in November and took office Jan. 1.
Since then, he’s spent much of his time evaluating the underlying causes for the county’s water and sewer issues.
He hasn’t yet proposed long-term solutions, but he said they’re coming once he fully understands the problems.
“We all depend on this water. Fresh water must be pumped in, and the waste must be pumped out. If that doesn’t work, you can’t have a city and you can’t have a county,” Thurmond said. “I have no fears and I have no doubts. We will be successful.”
Thurmond highlighted several steps he’s taken so far on water billing, blight reduction and unemployment.
He proposed — and the DeKalb Commission passed — an annual budget that includes $1.5 million in additional funding for staffing, training and auditing of excessive water bills.
He has also started a $2.6 million effort to clean litter and unclog storm drains across the county.
In addition, he launched a $700,000 program to provide paid summer internships to people ages 14 to 24.