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The Birmingham Water Works Boards (BWWB) held a public hearing Wednesday night to let citizens voice their opinion about a possible rate hike.

According to WVTM, some customers at the hearing were furious about the increase, and a few of them even complained their water smelled.

At the meeting, Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson called the proposed rate increase "straight up thievery."

The BWWB is considering recommendations made by consultants and the board's staff, which were presented to the board's Finance Committee in September. 

To cover the recommended $128 million budget, a nearly 11% increase from 2022, the board proposed raising rates by an average of 8.3%, well above last year's increase of 3.9%.

Because the BWWB charges its customers based on a tiered structure, the rate increase could be as much as 19% for customers using larger amounts of water.

The proposed increase will go up for a vote later this month.

The Water Works has been the focal point of harsh public criticism over the past year due to billing issues that have left some customers with suspiciously hefty water bills.

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 were estimations using previous months. Birmingham Water Works blamed the issues on a lack of meter readers and insufficient staffing.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall asked the BWWB in October to turn over a handful of documents about the proposed rate increase.

1819 News reached out to Marshall's office for an update. Marshall's communications director Mike Lewis said that the Attorney General continues to review the BWWB's operations and strongly recommends that the BWWB correct its billing issues immediately. 

Part of the BWWB's new budget is supposed to go toward an additional $1.5 million in labor costs, which includes two new PR positions.

Even with the new positions, the BWWB voted to outsource a second PR firm, meaning it is now paying $50,000 to outside firms every month on top of providing salaries for its current PR staff, according to WBRC.

The issues have drawn the attention of public figures on both sides of the aisle, including Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, a Democrat, and State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills).

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email will.blakely@1819news.com or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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