By John Schaffner
johnschaffner@reporternewspapers.net

Rob Hunter, commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management faced a polite, but angry crowd of more than 50 Buckhead homeowners Aug. 23 who wanted to know why their water bills had jumped from under $200 in the spring to between $700 and $2,800 and more in June and July.

The meeting, which was arranged at the request of Wildwood neighborhood resident Bill Lucas, drew representatives from at six south Buckhead neighborhoods where residents have experienced water bills that increased more than 10-fold over what they traditionally have been, according to Lucas.

The meeting was held at the Northside United Methodist Church on Northside Drive next to North Atlanta High School. It began at 5 p.m., following a private meeting between Hunter, Lucas and Dist. 8 Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean. The meeting last to after 7 p.m.

At the end of the meeting, Lucas said, “I am not pleased with what took place here tonight. The discussion went around in circles led by Hunter and no solutions emerged for the problems homeowners are facing with these ridiculous water bills.”

Lucas said he was sure none of those who attended the meeting to present their problems to the commissioner, “went away from the meeting feeling any better and thinking they had heard any solutions discussed to address their problems.”

Lucas, who is a perennial entrepreneur, has volunteered to gather information about the overcharged resident water bills and lead a consumer protest against Watershed Management to call attention to the problems and to demand the city water department find solution to keep the problem from recurring in the future.

One man in the audience told Hunter he could not understand how his water bill went from an average of $120 per month prior to June to $2,800 in July, even taking into consideration the 12.5 percent rate increase that went into effect July 1.

That resident’s tale of anguish was just one of many—one after another—presented to Hunter during the two hours, which he promised his department would check into the cause and make adjustment where necessary.

Hunter said one of the problems has been that the city has had 150,000 old water meters in use that because of their age have been giving readings that are much lower than they should have been. Those meter have now mainly been replace by new meters that are giving true readings. That, he said is coupled with the new rate increase.

Since 2004, Hunter said, the city has tripled water rates.

Hunter, who had an entourage of his Customer Service representatives at the meeting to work with individual homeowners, told the group that if their water bills are too high, they should “dispute the bill” and his department will come out and check the meter operation. If the homeowner is not happy with the findings of the field representatives, he or she can appeal the dispute resolution.

But Hunter warned those at the meeting, don’t just ignore paying the bill, because Watershed Management will turn off the water if the bills are unpaid.

One resident, who lives on Northfleet Drive in the Springlake neighborhood recounted how his average water usage of 6 to 7 ccf (a ccf being 100 cubic feet of water) to 34 ccf in June and July when his whole family was away in Seattle.

“I am not a convinced or happy consumer,” the Springlake resident told Hunter. “I am (explicative).”

Tom Tate, who lives on Kipling Drive in Buckhead, added, “That’s why we all are here.”

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If you want to dispute your bill
If you have a bill you think is too high, it is important to file a dispute with the city.  Dispute forms can be found online and can be e-mailed or mailed to Watershed Management. For information on the process, go to www.atlantawatershed.org/custsrv/appeals.htm.
If you want to talk to a person about your problem, call 404-658-6500, but don’t forget to fill out the dispute form.
According to the dispute form, you should pay all amounts due, whether you agree or not.  DWM will refund your money if the dispute is resolved in your favor.  Sometimes you can get the person on the phone to agree to a reduced payment.
Be sure to write down the name(s) of individuals you talk to about your bill dispute.  If they don’t give you a tracking number, ask for it and keep it with your dispute file.