Nearly a year after moratorium ended, thousands of DeKalb water customers still haven’t paid

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Channel 2 Action News has learned that almost a year after DeKalb County announced an end to its moratorium on paying water and sewer bills, the county still hasn’t cut service to even a single customer for non-payment.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher said effective Sept. 1, 2021, DeKalb’s customers were directed to pay their unpaid bills, set up a payment plan or dispute their bills.

The implied was message was — if you don’t pay, you’ll be cut off.

A veteran county commissioner said it was obvious the county wasn’t cutting service to delinquent customers.

“We haven’t seen any evidence that the moratorium has actually ended and that we are taking action to cut off past due water bills to this point,” DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said.

Belcher contacted the four-term county commissioner after waiting two weeks for CEO Michael Thurmond’s office to answer his questions about unpaid water and sewer bills.

Rader contends he and fellow commissioners don’t know either.

“Every time that issue comes up, we are told that we’re going to be getting that information. I don’t think anybody knows how much money is owed to DeKalb County by delinquent bills,” Rader said.

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“Well, I can’t respond to that. I just never recall a question from Commissioner Rader regarding this,” Thurmond told Belcher, who pressed the CEO for the total amount of unpaid bills as of today — a number we requested two weeks ago.

“Because it’s a dynamic process, we bill, we collect every day, so to say exactly what it is at this moment, would have no way of knowing,” Thurmond responded.

He asked an aide to contact the CFO for an exact number, but we did not receive it during the Zoom interview.

Thurmond said DeKalb did have to write off $34 million in uncollectible bills in 2020 that had piled up by the end of 2020.

But he says the county now collects 93% of what it bills. He says that is about $25 million in services monthly.

Thurmond praised the ending of the moratorium last year because he said customers with unpaid balances paid $33 million, which is “already in the bank.”

Other delinquent customers set up payment plans, committing to pay another $30 million.

“We feel and celebrate the fact that we’ve made tremendous progress,” Thurmond said.

But what about the hard edge of the expired moratorium — service cutoffs?

Thurmond said 4,000 customers are getting final warnings with a deadline of this coming Sept. 1.

“We are now informing them that they need to move expeditiously, and failure to do that, and they will be subject to a termination of service,” Thurmond said.

Rader contends that continuing problems with uncollected bills will make it more expensive for DeKalb to borrow money for expansion or upgrades to the water and sewer system.

The CEO declined to address that, saying that Rader has not brought that up with him.

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