By John Schaffner

Some Atlanta residential and commercial customers of the city’s Department of Watershed Management were confused when they received their December water bills and had an extra month’s charges on it — the charges for July/August, plus a late fee.

Other water department customers were peeved when their water was turned off because they failed to pay those July/August charges in a timely fashion.

Even though the Department of Watershed Management knew for about a year that the water rates were going to increase 27 percent July 1, the department was unable to process the July/August water bills with the new rates on them.

It apparently took months for the department to realize it had not properly billed customers at the beginning of the fiscal year, so the new rate for the July/August billing was attached to the December bills — with the bonus for the city of a late fee for the unpaid increase in rates.

If that weren’t enough to rile many residents and commercial customers, apparently many across the city then received letters from the Department of Watershed Management, within days of receiving their December bills, informing them their water was about to be turned off because of the overdue balance from the July/August bills.

Some actually had their water shut off and had to have Watershed Management turn the service back on.

During the Neighborhood Planning Unit B meeting Jan. 6, Watershed Management representative Deanne Titus was asked about the billing and notice issues, and she said the department had gotten a lot of calls about the problems.

Titus acknowledged some billing problems but said the department is making good on any extra charges, such as late fees and disconnect/connect fees, that customers encountered.

One NPU-B board member said he received his December bill with the extra charges and paid it in seven days. Immediately after paying the bill, he received a letter informing him that he was past due on paying his water fees — for July/August — and that his water was about to be turned off.

That customer, like many others, claimed it was not his problem that Watershed Management had been unable to bill its customers properly. Therefore, he did not feel he should have to pay even the late fee, much less face having his water service disconnected.

Sitting in the audience at the NPU-B meeting was Dist. 7 Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook. He introduced a resolution that was passed by the City Utilities Committee, requesting that the independent auditor include in its audit of the Department of Watershed Management an analysis of the department’s customer billing and service termination activities, including those issued in December and January. The resolution was likely to get approval from the full City Council on Jan. 22, after the Buckhead Reporter went to press.

The resolution reads, “Customer accounts mistakenly billed and/or terminated should be made whole as quickly as practical; and the mistake explained.”