DeKalb resident Arelia Wimby, whose latest water bill is $2,845.08, was on hand with dozens of other area residents to demand answers about excessively high water bills during a town hall meeting at the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur on Nov. 10. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Extreme DeKalb water bills to be audited

An outside agency is being hired to look into the root causes of why the DeKalb County can’t get its water bills right.

The county’s chief auditor, John Greene, ordered the independent inquiry to determine the reasons for the county’s persistent problems with issuing inaccurate bills, which have skyrocketed to more than $1,000 for some households.

Greene said the examination will evaluate the county’s water billing procedures, identify flaws and recommend solutions.

“DeKalb County taxpayers want some answers,” Greene said Wednesday. “It’s a great opportunity to show the taxpayers we’re looking at things independently and addressing what the issues are.”

RELATED: Anxious DeKalb residents seek relief from extreme water bills

This will be Greene’s first audit since he was hired in August as the county’s financial watchdog, responsible for finding fraud and reducing inefficiencies. The Georgia General Assembly created the job last year in response to allegations of government waste and misbehavior.

Greene made water billing his priority after hundreds of people complained of extreme bills and sought answers at town hall meetings.

He is soliciting companies to examine water meter malfunctions, installation errors, data entry mistakes, billing systems and other irregularities.

Firms must submit proposals by Jan. 13, and the audit is scheduled for completion by May 15.

Bill Cox, who has protested high bills outside DeKalb Commission meetings, said he hopes the audit will get to the bottom of the problem.

“People are suspicious, and we really don’t understand why we’re having this problem and why it’s continuing,” said Cox, one of nearly 2,100 members of the Facebook group Unbelievable DeKalb Water Bills. “For whatever reason, whether it’s incompetence or ill intent, we haven’t been able to get straight answers.”

RELATED: How to dispute high water bills in DeKalb

Greene said he sought an outside company to conduct the audit because he hasn’t yet hired staff that could do the work. The cost of the audit won’t be determined until companies submit their proposals and the DeKalb Commission votes to award a contract.

In the meantime, DeKalb’s government has been trying to help residents resolve issues with their bills.

The county created a dispute resolution process, put a moratorium on water shut-offs for residents fighting their bills and ordered replacement water meters.

In addition, DeKalb Chief Operating Officer Zach Williams has said meter readings are being more thoroughly reviewed, additional staff is being hired and meter readers are being held accountable for mistakes.

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