Every month, the bank account held by the Greenville Arts Council is automatically drafted by the City of Greenville for its water, sewer, garbage and trash service.
The amount varies monthly, but it generally is between $70 and $100.
In March, the account was drafted for $641. That’s almost 10 times the average amount for a month.
Employees from GAC contacted the Greenville City Water Department and were told the amount was so high because the city had to catch up on billing cycles missed in the last six months.
They were told by the city water department the city had not been reading their water meter, yet each month the water bills show a previous usage amount and a current usage reading. The account has been drafted each of the last six months, without fail, for a different amount based on the readings on the water bill.
After February’s winter storm where the city was left with a limited water supply and most homes dripped water faucets in preparation of freezing temperatures, many people have since seen a concerning amount of money owed on their water bills.
Many residents who say they had no water access at all for nearly two weeks are also seeing unusually high bills.
Janie Carlisle, bookkeeper for Reed-Joseph International Company, said there has been a significant increase in their business’ water bill.
With no leaks and no water usage during a two-week period, Carlisle said they believe this is the fault of the Greenville Water Department.
“Our company, R-J International, had a $416 water bill for two months from the Greenville Water Department. Our average water bill is $60 a month. We called and complained that there is no way we used this much water in two months. A man came a rechecked the meter and it is still reading the same. That may be the case but something on their end is not right,” she said. “We have had no leaks and we did not use water for two weeks because we were not at work because of the storm. This is ridiculous. We should not have to pay for whatever mistakes the Greenville Water Department as made or the mayor’s mistake for not being prepared for a storm. The average person makes $800 a month. I do not see how they can get away with charging everyone in town this much for water.”
Mayor Errick Simmons conducted a press conference Wednesday to address growing concerns regarding water bills among the community.
“We wanted to do this press conference today to not only express compassion, but to also express the same concern that you all are having regarding water billing concerns here in the City of Greenville,” he said.
Simmons said he wanted to assure both residential and industrial consumers their water and utility bill concerns are being heard.
“First and foremost, we hear you loud and clear about receiving bills that are more than a 30 day’s billing cycle and also higher than normal water bills due to the winter storm that hit us in February,” he said. “Number one, to effectively and efficiently respond, the Greenville City Council hired additional meter readers and you will see meter readers in the water department out in the field.”
Mechelle Jones, who assists her retired, elderly father with paying his bills, said the increased water bills have been going on long before the winter storm in February.
In 2019, Jones said the monthly water bills were always around $50 each month. But those monthly bills have steadily increased over the past year.
In September, they received a water bill for about $104. In November, the bill raised to $153. In December, the bill raised even more to $253. Their most recent water bill for this month was for $272.
While a nearly $300 water bill may sound outrageous to some, it’s not nearly as high as the bills some residents have been receiving.
Jones said she feels lucky because she has heard of some residents receiving water bills for over $1,000.
Thankful that her bill isn’t higher than it already is, Jones said she still has not called the water department with complaints, but she fears she may have to if it continues to increase.
“I try not to question anything. When I get the bills, I pay them. It’s still ridiculous,” she said.
Jones said there are no leaks in the pipes at her father’s that leads her to believe their bill merits raising so often.
“In fact, there was a time we did have a leak and even when we had the leak it wasn’t as expensive as it is now,” she said. “I don’t know where they’re getting these numbers. Their meters have to be off is the only thing that makes sense.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Simmons also highlighted the recent hiring of a company to pull 50 to 70 meters to test the meters for efficiency and response.
“We are reviewing every aspect of the water utility department and our system and we’re making the necessary improvements and we want our residents to bear with us during this period of time,” he said.
Simmons pointed out the efforts being made within the legal parameters of the city to assist people in the community, particularly the elderly, disabled and those considered vulnerable as it pertains to water and utility issues.
Simmons said immediately following the winter storm event, the city reached out to the state auditor’s office to determine as to whether the city, or any other municipality affected for that matter, could offer or forgive water bills due to the storm.
“The response was the city could not offer a discount or forgive a water bill due to high usage due to the winter storm from things such as dripping faucets or filling up bathtubs, even if the city encouraged it,” he said.
As was likely the case for many Greenville residents, Simmons said that in the situation of the city reducing a bill, when a pipe breaks under a resident’s house, that is because the city, nor the citizens receive any benefit from the water usage.
“In the case of winter storm preparedness or emergency preparedness, it is the citizen’s benefit to take storm preparedness and it is the citizen’s benefit to take measures, such as dripping your faucets or filling up your tubs, and for that we cannot give a donation,” he said.
However, adjustments due to leaks can be applied to water bills upon the condition that residents provide either a plumber’s receipt or patch receipt for the water department.
Simmons said adjustments are being given daily and will be made for all of the city’s residential and business customers who need a leak adjustment for unusually high water bills due to the winter storm, or any adjustment that is needed because of busted pipes or water, which customers did not use going through their water lines.
During two special sessions held Wednesday and Thursday, the city council heard presentations from five water billing software providers.
Those were Tyler Technologies, AVR, Inc., SmartGrid CIS, LLC, Diversified Billing System and MuniBilling.
“We’re establishing a water billing committee and we’re going to be looking at a number of things, including price, features training, implementation and deadline in service after the on boarding process of this new billing system,” Simmons said.
For general concerns or questions regarding water bills, residents are encouraged to call 662-378-1500 or 662-378-1534 for any questions regarding general city concerns or particularly water and utility department billing concerns with their water bills.