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A former Birmingham Water Works employee released an audio recording of herself warning general manager Michael Johnson of potential billing issues in December.
In the recording obtained by WBRC, the former employee, who wished to remain anonymous, warned Johnson that he would find the number of water meter readings the Water Works had an accurate reading on "startling."
Johnson replied, “Yeah, I know.”
Earlier this year, thousands of customers reportedly didn't receive bills for months at a time. Later, they received much larger or multiple bills all at once.
The bills were also not based on accurate meter readings but estimations based on previous months. Birmingham Water Works blamed the issues on a lack of meter readers and insufficient staffing.
Despite the uproar, the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) may be raising rates again in 2023 by an average of 8.3% to fund a $128 million budget, part of which will be used to fund two new public relations (PR) positions.
The BWWB charges its customers based on a tiered structure, meaning the rate increase could be as much as 19% for customers using larger amounts of water.
The former employee was one of three employees in the Water Works billing department fired last December after they were accused of falsifying meter readings for 28 new homes in Hoover, though these accusations have been denied.
The former employee said she was simply following orders when she asked a meter reader to re-read the meters in that neighborhood because the initial readings indicated that the homes had zero consumption, which she knew was likely not true.
She said she was told by her superiors to “reverse” the meters, a process of estimating water usage by dividing other readings, and that the “vast majority” of the Water Work’s billing calculations are “guesswork.”
The former employee also insisted that she and her teammates had requested the Water Works to put their process on paper for months, but this request was constantly denied. She said Johnson and the BWWB are getting “half information” from Water Works management.
The audio was recorded by the former employee during her hearing to appeal her firing, but the Water Works did not know they were on tape.
Johnson upheld the former employee’s firing, which the former employee said put the Water Works behind.
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