The Jefferson County Commission approved a new billing agreement with the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) on Tuesday after what reports say were months of negotiations.

Whereas Jefferson County residents receive their water from the Water Works, Jefferson County owns and operates the area’s sewer system. Both require a way to measure customers’ water usage for billing purposes. 

Currently, the Water Works acts as a billing agent for the county’s sewer service. 

The Water Works initially started looking into automated meter readers after a year of chaos in the utility due to meter reading issues, which it partly attributed to labor shortages.

Last 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 not based on accurate meter readings but were estimations using previous months' usage. Birmingham Water Works blamed the issues on insufficient meter readers and inadequate staffing.

The billing issues have even spurred one state lawmaker to introduce a bill in the Alabama House of Representatives to overhaul the current BWWB members and amend their qualifications.

According to Water Works public relations manager Rick Jackson, the utility estimated water bills temporarily due to staffing shortages in the meter reading and billing departments. 

Under the new agreement, the Water Works will continue to act as the county’s billing agent for sewer service changes, but representatives from the Jefferson County Commission and the Water Works will work together to examine the costs and benefits of implementing the automatic readers. 

The new agreement will go into effect at the beginning of next year. 

“The agreement is a five-year agreement where the [BWWB] will collect the sewer charges for its Jefferson County customers,” Jefferson County Commission president Jimmie Stephens explained to 1819 News on Wednesday afternoon. “It is a cost-effective agreement that will benefit the ratepayers by reducing the cost of collection, and we look forward to continuing. We appreciate the [BWWB’s engagement and willingness to work with us, and we’re very pleased with the arrangements, and we look forward to continuing for the foreseeable future.”

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