After a year of billing issues and public outrage, the Birmingham Water Works will resume cutting off water to delinquent customers in February, the utility announced on Wednesday.

The Water Works paused its shutoff policy in January of this year due to a plethora of 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 earlier this 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.

Jackson said the utility is fully staffed, and 99% of Water Works customers should receive bills on time. 

He urged all customers to bring their accounts current as soon as possible and low income customers to contact customer service to make billing arrangements if they are struggling. 

“We don’t want anyone to be without water, period,” said Jackson. “We were one of the first utilities in the country to stop service disconnections for nonpayment during the COVID crisis, and our concern is for low and moderate income customers to maintain their services.”

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.

Water Works assistant general manager of Finance and Administration Iris Fisher said that the utility must reduce its delinquencies, which have increased from just under $7.3 million to over $19 million since January.

Reach Water Works’ customer service by phone at 205-244-4000 or online here.

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