DeKalb CEO Thurmond pledges action on water bills and sewer problems

DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond said he’ll fix the county’s major water overbilling and sewer capacity problems, promising that “the current state of affairs will not be allowed to continue.”

Thurmond, delivering his first State of the County address three months after taking office, said Thursday he's working to make water bills more accurate and ensure sewer lines are available for future growth.

“We have neglected and mismanaged DeKalb’s most important resource, which is its water and sewer system,” Thurmond said. “This current state of affairs will not be allowed to continue under my administration.”

Thurmond told a crowd of more than 400 business and government leaders that he's focused on the basics of government service and quality of life, especially its water and sewer system. The event was hosted by the Council for Quality Growth and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.

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.