High DeKalb water bills leave residents grasping for answers

DeKalb County CEO Mike Thurmond addressed a crowd of residents concerned about high water bills at the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur on Sept. 25, 2017. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond says the county government is correcting inaccurate water bills, even as residents told him they’re still waiting for solutions.

Thurmond, holding his fourth public meeting about high water bills Monday, tried to reassure residents that he'll fix the problem.

But Thurmond and other government officials tempered expectations, letting more than 60 people in attendance know it will take at least three years to replace old water meters and install updated billing software.

“We are making progress,” Thurmond told the audience. “I don’t care who created it. ... I’m the guy that’s responsible for correcting it.”

Some of those in attendance said they remain baffled by their bills.

Patricia Brown of Lithonia said she moved into her Lithonia home a year ago, and since then her bills have inexplicably risen from $60 to $320 last month. She said customer service representatives haven’t corrected the issue despite several in-person visits to the billing center.

“I don’t know what to do,” Brown said. “The plumber said there are no leaks in and no leaks out.”

Thurmond asked Brown to dispute her bill, and she won't be charged until the problem is resolved.

There are many reasons for inaccurate bills in DeKalb, from malfunctioning water meters to computer errors. Some meters were read incorrectly, and some bills have been estimated.

The county has been trying to verify bills from 37,000 accounts that haven't been billed since last October because of questions about accuracy. By the end of this month, the county will have checked and released 27,000 of those bills.

Then the government plans to replace 102,000 old or potentially faulty meters at a rate of 25,000 per year. A contract for new water meters will be advertised in October.

Also, the DeKalb Commission voted in June to spend $5 million to replace the county's water billing software. That software will take 15 to 18 months to install.

In Other News