DeKalb County extends water bill moratorium after people still receive massive bills

A $30,000 water bill is exactly the kind of problem DeKalb County has invested millions of dollars and years of work into preventing.

But just as the county is preparing to once again start shutting off water service for delinquent bills after a five-year moratorium.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray has heard from customers who continue to get surprise bills.

DeKalb spent millions replacing water meters across the county and was going to start shutting service off to customers beginning this week, but now the county has extended its moratorium two more months.

“Since 2018, I haven’t received a bill,” said Althea Brightwell.

Catherine Ficke told Gray the same thing.

Now there is a big surprise in the mail.

“I started cursing. I was like this can’t be real,” Brightwell said.

She told Gray that she got a $32,000 water bill last week for her DeKalb County home.

“Is there anyway you could ever pay this bill?” Gray asked Brightwell.

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“How? I’m on Social Security. I work part-time. How am I gonna pay it?” Brightwell said.

Ficke’s first water bill in years came in at nearly $4,000.

“Never received a bill. In the past, my other landlords they paid the water. I assumed that my landlord was paying this bill because I never received one,” Ficke said.

DeKalb County has been touting for years that water billing problems are finally a thing of the past after adding staff and replacing 82,000 defective water meters.

But the county is now extending the five-year-old moratorium on water shutoff that was supposed to end this week by two more months.

“While the county has addressed the issues that led to the moratorium in 2016, the extension gives customers more time to pay their outstanding bills in full or make payment arrangements,” DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said in a statement Friday.

“No pool, it’s just me and a 12-year-old, my grandson I’m raising. That’s it, so there’s no way we can use that much water,” Brightwell said.

Gray contacted DeKalb officials on Friday who said they are now researching what’s going on with Brightwell’s bill. They said homeowners like her can file a dispute about their bill.

DeKalb said more than 1,300 people have worked out payment plans with them and those can be stretched out over several years.