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Auditor: ATL bungled water rate hike, service cutoffs


Hundreds of customers had their water service cut off last winter because the city of Atlanta mishandled retroactive billing for a rate hike, according to a new city audit.

Moreover, an estimated one in five customers were not told before their water was cut off, the auditor found. City code requires the Department of Watershed Management to give notice before discontinuing service.

robert hunterWater commissioner Robert Hunter disputed the findings. “No customers were shut off due to back bill posting,” he said in a letter attached to the audit.

The 27 percent rate hike took effect in July 2008 but was not applied to customers’ accounts until Aug. 1. To recapture $7 million in lost revenue,  the city tacked the July charges onto customers’ December bills with little explanation.

The back-billed adjustments made it appear that some customers’ accounts were overdue when they were not, City Auditor Leslie Ward said. The city typically turns off the water for residential customers with a bill of $50 or more that is overdue by at least 30 days.

The city cut off about 20,000 water accounts between December 2008 and February 2009. The audit team estimated that 1.7 percent were cut off because the back-billed adjustments were regarded in error as overdue balances.

The water department also improperly charged nearly 40,000 customers a penalty for failing to pay the back-billed amounts promptly, the audit found. Those penalties were later reversed.

Delinquent customers are supposed to be notified by an Interactive Voice Response system, but water department staffers told the auditor they it was turned off in November because it wasn’t working properly.

The auditor called for refunds for customers who were wrongly billed shutoff charges, as well as other procedural changes. Hunter challenged each of the auditor’s key recommendations and said no refunds are warranted.

The City Council requested the audit after customers complained they were cut off, some without notice, even though they had paid their bills. The council’s Utilities Committee is expected to discuss the audit Tuesday.





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3 Responses to “Auditor: ATL bungled water rate hike, service cutoffs”

  1. Tawn Chi says:

    I am a property manager of single family homes and we have experienced numerous times within the last 2 years a shut off of water without any notice and for no reason. Not even a past due balance. When we called the city, we were told there was no explanation for our water being cut off. It was an error.

    One time we sent a copy of our canceled check and the city still refused to turn our water on without paying a ransom penalty fee for nonpayment. We had to pay it to get the water turned back on. This was my primary residence and we had 3 small children, including a newborn baby.

    We currently have 3 properties in discrepency like this and we had to file an appeal to try and get the penalties reversed. We are told by the city it will take 6-9 months for our appeal to be scheduled and we MUST pay our current amount, even if it’s in discrepency. This is clearly extortion.

  2. Ken McL says:

    This department is a disaster and impossible to reason with. Our flower shop bill goes along for months at $200.00 to $300.00 a month then comes a bill for
    We always use close to the same amount of water,
    every month, 30-35 ccf
    Water department will NEVER admit they made a mistake. No wonder small business is leaving the city of Atlanta. Total mismanaged!

  3. Adam Smith says:

    The city shutoff 340 of its 130,000 customers in error and that is a news story? That sounds like a pretty good margin of error to me.