Water customer questions billing

CONYERS - While the leak in John Roberts' water line had been repaired, close inspection of his water bill showed that a few extra dollars were being drained from his wallet each month.

Roberts said he noticed his December bill was based on his meter being read 38 days from the last billing cycle. His January bill showed 44 days between meter readings, which caused his usage to go over 6,000 gallons - and which bumped his rate up to the next tier.

"When I called the billing department about it, she said she would be glad to adjust anybody's bill, but you have to know to call," said Roberts, who lives in the Meadowbrook subdivision. "When the dollar figure is only $5, $6 or $7, most people think, 'well, I just used a little bit more water,' and not the fact that it took them 40 days to read the meter."

According to Rockdale County's Web site, www.rockdalecounty.org, residential water customers pay $3.17 per 1,000 gallons up to 6,000 gallons used a month. When monthly water usage falls between 7,000 and 12,000 gallons, the rate increases to $3.26 per 1,000 gallons. Usage that exceeds 13,000 gallons a month is billed at $4.02 per 1,000 gallons.

Rockdale Water Resources officials said the billing problem described by Roberts is unusual. Roselyn Miller, Rockdale County's deputy finance director, said any billing problems should be cleared up in the coming weeks.

"It's not a common occurrence, however, we have fallen a little bit behind schedule on billing," Miller said. "We have been focusing our attention on past-due accounts. We should be back on schedule by March."

The issue of past-due accounts is one problem at RWR that led the Board of Commissioners in January to turn over customer billing and meter reading responsibilities to the county's Department of Finance.

It was reported in 2007 that the utility had millions of dollars in uncollected accounts and that some customers had not been billed at all. The mass of uncollected water bills, accounting for as much as 25 percent of the amount billed each month, came to light after the county hired a consultant to study the water department's rate structure.

Inadequate computer software was cited as one reason for the billing problems. Some parts of RWR's operations still run on software that predates when Conyers sold the water department to Rockdale County in 1998. Water department officials explained that it was difficult to perform basic accounting functions with RWR on one system and the county's finance department on another.

Last year, the Board of Commissioners approved a $304,560 contract with Cogsdale Corporation of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, to design and install a software program that is hoped to simplify the billing process and integrate all functions of the water department, Miller said.

Cogsdale officials have met with RWR officials once to determine what features need to be included in the software. Miller said it is anticipated to take 10 to 12 months to have the new software fully installed.

Miller said this week she was not prepared to offer an update of the county's reconciliation efforts of the past-due accounts.

She said that water department officials report to Rockdale County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Middlebrooks on a regular basis. An overall report on the progress of the water department's billing and distribution improvements to the Board of Commissioners is expected soon, but no date has been set.

In the meantime, Roberts suggested all county water customers watch their water bills for any irregularities.

"It's not just my $7 or $8, but if you take that $7 or $8 and multiply it times thousands of people in the county, there's a whole lot of money going somewhere," he said.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.