Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons held a press conference Wednesday afternoon along with water and utility department director Jessie Whitley to address water and utility billing concerns.
For some time now, the water department has had to play “catch up” as it pertains to billing due to the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s personnel.
“We want our residents to know we hear you loud and clear and we are here to have corrective action and present corrective action in some of the issues regarding your water bill,” Simmons said during the live conference on Facebook.
Simmons noted some common concerns among residents included but are not limited to having an excessive bill, a normal monthly bill of a 28-day cycle and even bills that have gone upwards to $150 to $200.
Simmons also alluded to a new water meter reading technology that the council approved for implementation that would help to increase the accuracy and transparency of water bills.
In May, Whitley discussed the new SmartPhone Meter Reading System.
Whitley said right in the midst of COVID-19 emerging, the department was integrating the new system, launched by a company called Datamatic.
“We were training on what we call smart phone systems,” Whitley said. “Being that COVID-19 came about, we had to kind of put a halt on the training.”
The halt in training is another reason the department had been lagging behind in getting the bills out to customers, which Simmons highlighted during the press conference.
“That put us into a 90-day delay,” Simmons said, referring to the protocols for city and Datamatic personnel.
The 90-day delay, lack of training and having to furlough employees are all contributing factors to the water and utility department billing woes.
Whitley noted the complaints of residents who have bills reflecting more than one cycle and said, “We want you to know that we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
“We’re short staffed,” Whitley said, “but thanks to the mayor and city council, we’re getting more staff.”
Pertaining to the concerns of residents’ bills and payments, Whitley told press conference viewers those concerns will be handled with understanding and compassion; the department just needs the opportunity to address them.
He explained the department bills in four cycles — one, two, three and four.
In cycle one, there are 1,700-1,800 customers billed; in cycle two, there are 1,900-2,000 customers billed; in cycle three, there are 3,500-4,800 customers billed; in cycle four, there are nearly 5,000 customers billed.
“So just imagine, all those water meters we have to read in just 28 days,” Whitley illustrated. “It takes a little time, but we’re getting there.
In responding to a question about residents who may receive their bills during a cycle other than the one they would normally receive their bills, Whitley said, “That’s a big concern because a lot of our incomes are fixed, so a lot of people like to pay their bills at a certain time of the month.”
He added that if a customer’s readings are not in the system yet, he or she can still pay on that bill when they normally would and a credit would go toward the bill once it is actually in the system.
So far, the council has hired two full time employees in the water department and one temp to aid in the department’s efficiency.