The Birmingham Water Works will begin shutting off water for delinquents and resume collections for outstanding bills on Wednesday.
The Water Works paused its shutoff policy in January 2022 due to many billing issues faced by the company.
The issues left some customers with suspiciously hefty water bills.
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.
According to Water Works public relations manager Rick Jackson, the utility's estimation of water bills was a temporary measure taken due to staffing shortages in the meter reading and billing departments.
Nevertheless, a former employee accused the Water Works of lacking checks and balances and communication last year. She claimed to be one of three billing department employees fired on December 1, 2021, and said that the utility accused her of falsifying documents, which she denies.
Instead, she said she was intentionally given unclear instructions from the managers whose orders she was following.
The former billing department employee said this went on for over two years, and she was not surprised when billing issues ensued earlier in 2022.
In December, Jackson said the utility was fully staffed, and 99% of Water Works customers should receive bills on time. He insisted that the utility must resume the shutoff policy because there are so many delinquent accounts.
Last year, Water Works assistant general manager of Finance and Administration Iris Fisher said in a press release that delinquencies increased from just under $7.3 million to over $19 million since January.
At the same time, the utility is increasing its expenditures.
At the end of November, Birmingham Water Works voted to approve two new budgets for fiscal year 2023, which amount to a combined total of $197,612,101. The new budgets also call for a 3.9% rate hike, which is less than half of the rate increase that was proposed in September and identical to the rate hike that came with last year's budget.
Jackson urged all customers to bring their accounts current as soon as possible.
"To our customers who are having payment problems, help us help you," Jackson said. "Help is available. We don't want anyone to be without water, period. Our concern is for low and moderate-income customers to maintain their service. Help is available on our customer hotline, and there are also many nonprofit agencies in the area who also offer payment assistance. We want to hear from anyone who has problems with payments. Customers can call Birmingham Water Works Customer Service department via phone [at] 205-244-4000 or go online at www.bwwb.org."
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email email@example.com or find him on Twitter and Facebook.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.