Questions on new bill flood water department

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Questions have been pouring into the Brookhaven Water Departmentsince redesigned bills began arriving at customers’ homes earlierthis month, officials said.

“The phone has not stopped ringing,” said Jennifer Peets, waterdepartment billing clerk.

Approximately 4,000 water bills were sent out Nov. 1. Inquiriesabout the bills’ new appearance began shortly thereafter, Peetssaid.

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Peets cited several factors contributing to the billingquestions. Among them are a new billing line item that clarifieswhat customers pay for garbage and trash pickup as well as higherwater, sewer and solid waste fees which were approved by the Boardof Aldermen earlier this year.

“It’s a combination of all of that,” Peets said.

At the request of Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell, the boardvoted to have separate listings for garbage collection – $9.95 amonth – and for trash collection – $6.05 month. Previously, Peetssaid, those were listed as a single $12 charge for “garbagecollection.”

Peets said the solid waste charges have prompted the mostresponse from customers.

“It’s split between that – because it looks different – and it’shigher,” Peets said.

At budget time in August and September, aldermen approved a$4-a-month increase in the solid waste fee to $16 a month. At thetime, officials said the increase was needed to offset deficitoperations and to generate funds to purchase much-needed newequipment for city trash collection.

The city pays Waste Management $9.95 a month for twice-weeklygarbage pick up. The remaining amount, now $6.05 a month, goes tofund city pickup of trash.

Despite the higher rate, Peets said customers generally have notbeen upset when they have called.

“People are wanting to understand why it’s different,” Peetssaid.

Mayor Bob Massengill said his office also has received somecalls about the new bills. He said customers were questioning thebreakdown of the solid waste fees.

“Any time you have a change in something, there’s going to becomments,” Massengill said.

In addition to the solid waste fee hike, the new bills alsoreflect a 6 percent increase in water and sewer fees approvedearlier by the board. The mayor downplayed the potential forcomplaints with the water and sewer fee hikes.

“You’re hardly going to notice it in the water bill because it’ssuch a relatively small increase,” Massengill said.

For the average city water user, officials said the increase -the first in more 10 years – would amount to less than $1 a month.Massengill said he had spoken with other muncipalities’ officials,who said they annually raise their water rates by a smallpercentage.

Peets said there have been a number of requests to have watermeters re-read and to have lines checked for possible leaks.

Peets said water usage totals have been higher recently due toHurricane Katrina, dry conditions and residents watering theirlawns. When customers question their bills, Peets said she oftenadvises them to check their toilets, which may be left running andcause water usage to increase dramatically.

Quiet was beginning to return to the water department officeTuesday afternoon. While the water bill changes may havetemporarily clouded the picture, Massengill and Peets expected nolong-term problems.

“After they get used to it, it’ll be fine,” Peets said.