Joyce Christman of Druid Hills, with her sign, is looking for billing justice along with dozens of other DeKalb County residents demanding answers for excessively high water bills during a town hall meeting at the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur on Thursday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Residents pressure DeKalb to fix extreme water bills

The crowd of residents upset with exorbitant water bills stood up to DeKalb County leaders Thursday, trying to hold them accountable for fixing the problem.

Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May attempted to reassure about 200 people who filled the town hall meeting, but many said the county’s response wasn’t acceptable.

Many people said their bills have doubled or more, sometimes exceeding $1,000. And they said the problem is getting worse, not better, despite the government’s attempts to work with homeowners through a revamped dispute resolution process.

RELATED: DeKalb halts installation of so-called “smart” water meters

They said inaccurate water meters and an unreliable government are to blame, and they demanded a better response.

Catherine Rye of Dunwoody said her bill jumped to $1,578 in September compared to her normal bill of $150.

“It’s erratic. It causes a lot of stress,” Rye said. “It’s not until you get a huge bill and then you say, ‘holy moly.’”

Water billing problems have been caused by malfunctioning digital meters, misread meters, computer errors and other issues. The DeKalb Commission passed a resolution stopping the installation of the problematic digital meters, the iPerl model made by Sensus.

RELATED: Reasons for high DeKalb County water bills revealed

DeKalb officials have declared a moratorium on water shut-offs for residents fighting their high bills. But permanent fixes will take time — possibly years as the county replaces old and broken meters across 190,000 properties.

Some residents say they’re fed up with the county’s response.

Melanie and Jake Pollard said their water and sewer bill rose to $500 from its average amount of $100. One of their bills showed an extreme $185,900 charge along with a refund of all but $268 of that amount.

“We’ve just had enough. We’re leaving Atlanta,” said Melanie Pollard, who lives in Brookhaven. “It’s just too much. We shouldn’t have to do this much fighting just to have equity and fairness.”

RELATED: Faulty meter readings at the root of high DeKalb water bills

In an 88-unit condo complex in Clarkston, the cumulative bill spiked from $6,000 to $8,000, said a resident, Gladys Baylor. The bill is divided among residents and paid by the condo’s homeowners association.

“We can’t pay an $8,000 bill. And if they shut our water off, the whole community suffers,” Baylor said. “We’re just trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Joyce Christman, who lives near Druid Hills, said her bill rose from $100 to $650 while she wasn’t even living in her home. She was trying to sell the house at the time, and she paid the bill so she could turn on water service in her new residence.

“There are a lot of customers who weren’t home, and their bills are skyrocketing,” she said. “What’s concerning is that they always say it’s a leak.”

DeKalb leaders told residents they’re focusing on resolving disputed bills one at a time while working on long-term corrections. The county plans to rebid its water meter contract and sharply reduce the number of faulty meter readings by early next year.

Residents said hold times when they call the county’s customer service number are 45 minutes or longer .

“I believe this is an emergency,” May said, speaking of the need to replace faulty meters. “We’ve had real challenges with customer service. I’ve been ticked off.”

He pledged to continue seeking solutions and holding government employees responsible.

RELATED: Water billing problems persist for DeKalb residents

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