Some government services should just be boring: public works, senior services, code compliance. Your water bill should not be exciting. In DeKalb, it’s been a lottery ticket— in reverse.
Congratulations! You’re a winner! Here’s your $3,000 water bill.
More or less at random, thousands of DeKalb’s water customers have been getting bills off the chart. Suddenly, the inner workings of the Department of Watershed Management are thrilling! A public meeting about water billing filled a county auditorium, standing room only, and that room never gets filled.
The "Unbelievable DeKalb Water Bills" group on Facebook has more than 2000 members now. They swap stories about finding leaks that don’t exist and how many hours they’ve had on the phone with customer service.
I just want to take a shower!!
The rule, until recently was pay up, or get cut off.
We live in a country where most people can’t cover a $400 emergency without selling something. A $1000 bill out of the blue is like getting into a car accident or breaking your arm. It borders on extortion. People have lost their homes over it.
The county’s given lots of reasons for the billing problem. The finance system is…touchy. Meter readers make mistakes.
The county installed “smart” meters. Some of those meters have a “water inclusion” problem. Basically, DeKalb bought water meters that weren’t waterproof. Alas.
The county stopped cutting off people’s water if there’s a dispute. The incoming CEO has pledged to keep the moratorium in place, but there's no real plan in place yet.
Now, I’m pretty sure that the administration is working on solving this problem because pitchforks and torches at Home Depot cost less than these bills. But the county shouldn’t start cutting off water service until they’re sure they’ve got a real plan to get this back to boring.
To be fair, it’s not just DeKalb that’s got trouble. Atlanta has had issues with water meters for years, with some customers overcharged on the one hand and huge bills going unpaid on the other.
Let’s be clear: Residents and businesses SHOULD pay for the water they use, but not a drop more. And we have a right to expect our government to manage something as basic as getting water to the tap. But it won’t happen, apparently, without the standing-room-only citizen involvement we’re seeing in DeKalb.
We should thank those citizens, and follow their example.