Despite high water bills, DeKalb officials cite improvements

It may not be much consolation to residents facing high water bills, but DeKalb County officials say they've significantly reduced billing and metering mistakes.

Out of 190,000 water customers in DeKalb, the number of errors that occurred when the government miscalculated a bill declined from 1,140 in the first half of 2014 to 468 in the first half of this year, according to county figures provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The number of errors caused by bad meter readings dropped from 858 in the first half of 2014 to 228 through June of this year.

Most of the time, residents’ bills go up because they’ve increased their water consumption, especially during summer months when lawns need watering.

Customer water usage was the reason that bills rose 71 percent of the time, according to a 2014 county audit of bills that more than tripled. Water leaks and irrigation systems accounted for another 16 percent, and the county was responsible for billing spikes 13 percent of the time.

One of the solutions for DeKalb's water billing problems is to complete the installation of more accurate digital water meters that wirelessly transmit usage information. So far, about 20,000 of these smart meters have been put in place, and it will take four or five years for the rest to be installed.

The smart meters are expected to reduce mistakes because they’ll record water usage hourly and remove the human element of reading older mechanical meters.

Once communities are switched over to the new meters, customers will start receiving bills monthly instead of bimonthly, which will enable residents and the government to find errors more quickly. In addition, the county’s water billing system is continually being updated to reduce miscalculations.

DeKalb government customer service representatives continue to receive about 32,000 calls per month. Requests to delay billing payments, make payments and set up new service are the most frequent reasons for calls. Average call wait times have decreased from more than 13 minutes two years ago to about two minutes so far this year.