DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News has obtained the list of nearly 4,000 DeKalb County Water/Sewer Service customers who have failed to pay their bills for so long that county officials are considering cutting off service to those homes in coming weeks.
Michael Thurmond, CEO of DeKalb County, told Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher in mid-July that those customers need to pay or set up a payment plan by September 1. Otherwise, they could lose service.
Thurmond sounded a slightly softer tone in an interview with Channel 2 today.
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“We have no desire to cut off services, because what we want to do is help people who are having challenges to overcome those challenges and pay what’s owed so that we can continue to serve all of our customers,” Thurmond said.
He told Belcher: “The only thing (customers) can’t do is not do anything.”
DeKalb announced an end to its water bill moratorium September 1, 2021, but Channel 2 broke the story this summer that the county had not cut off service to a single customer since then. The county reports that the vast majority of water revenues are collected but also acknowledged in early August that customers now owe over $54 million.
A little more than one-third of that is owed by a relatively small number of households — about 2% of residential customers. Those are the customers whose attention the county wants to get right now.
For several years, DeKalb’s water and sewer system was dogged by widespread billing errors caused by faulty meters that had to be replaced. Since then the calls to Channel 2 from angry customers with outrageous bills largely have dried up.
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Warnings are going to the 3,838 overdue customers on the spreadsheet DeKalb sent Belcher this week. After a few hours with the numbers, he learned:
- More than 2,900 customers owe $1,000 or more
- More than 1,100 customers owe $5,000 or more
- A total of 408 customers owe $10,000 or more
The total owed by the accounts most at risk for service cut-off is $18,743,290.
A home on Woodland Cove in South DeKalb has, by far, the largest unpaid bill at $464,422.
A woman, who said she’s a tenant at the Woodland Cove address, met Channel 2 at the door.
“I think it’s a mistake,” she said. She blamed a sewer leak. When asked what she plans to do, she said, “We’re moving.” She said she did not have a phone number for the owner.
“Those people who are not paying, that’s just not an option,” Thurmond said Wednesday. He encouraged people: “Don’t wait. Make an arrangement.”
But he also brought up the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the rising incidence of monkeypox in DeKalb County as reasons not to be indiscriminately tough on non-payers.
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“We’re going to proceed, but the last thing we want to do is cut off water in the middle of a health crisis. We’re going to balance the need to collect the money that’s owed while protecting the health of our broader population,” he told Belcher.
“We expect people to do the right thing” he said. “Every citizen should pay his or her fair share.
According to the CEO, customers still in arrears after Sept. 1 have 20 days to pay, then another 10 days to set up a payment plan.
After that, “You might be subject to termination,” Thurmond said.
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