Atlanta city officials have quietly extended an amnesty program aimed at getting customers to pay off outstanding water and sewer bills or arrange payment plans. The program opened in late July as the city’s Department of Watershed Management (DWM) struggled to bring down a huge balance of unpaid bills by single family, multi-family and commercial customers. About two-thirds of the unpaid bills are for single families.
DWM tells Channel 2 Action News Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher it has brought in about $8 million from customers who were previously in arrears, but the total amount uncollected has ballooned from $121 million in late July to $134 million today. It was about $127 million when Channel 2 first ran the numbers in May 2021.
The city’s uncollected balance is far larger than other water and sewer systems across the metro Atlanta area. We reported that DeKalb County’s receivables totaled $54 million in early August. No other system is anywhere near Atlanta and DeKalb.
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We talked with Frances Kennedy after she worked out a 24-month payment plan at the branch library on Ponce de Leon Avenue in northeast Atlanta. DWM is moving its amnesty program around the city from week to week.
Like a lot of residential customers, Ms. Kennedy got way behind with the city — starting with a leak two years ago — and she couldn’t catch up. She owed about $4500 when she showed up for her appointment Wednesday morning. Her arrangement: She’ll pay an extra $111.17/month for 24-months in addition to her regular monthly bill. If she sticks to her plan, she says the city agrees to reduce her bill by about $1000 at the end of the 24-months. But she fears she has another leak.
“I’m going to be talking to a plumber, in order to see if I have a leak, because my bill this past month was 500-and-something dollars,” she told Channel 2 after her meeting with Watershed.
DWM says Ms. Kennedy is one of about 1100 customers who have worked out payments plans over the past eight weeks. The city has collected an additional $8 million but is still owed a staggering $134 million. Nonetheless, the city is still in no hurry to talk about cutting off people’s service.
“We’re not to the point where we’re doing disconnections. What we want to do is settle this up and help the customers continue to have water,” DWM Communications Director Scheree Rawles told Channel 2 when the program began. There’s no hint the city’s position has hardened.
The amnesty was scheduled to end the first week of October but is now scheduled to run through October 20 at various sites around the city. And, Rawles says it could be extended beyond that date because of “the high level of customer response.”
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