Water billing ‘blues’

Published 10:16 am Monday, July 25, 2016

GATESVILLE – While the issue over water bills have been debated on numerous occasions during meetings of the board of commissioners, one Gates County resident feels it should have been settled a long time ago.

As the Gates County Commissioners ponder several suggestions over the possibility of adding a week to the due date of the bills as well as moving the service cut-off date until the end of each month, Kurt Hoffler said he blames the commissioners for not taking such action and addressing other problematic issues much earlier.

“I have been in contact with two of our commissioners asking them to make changes in water billing,” said Hoffler, who resides on Bosley Road near Sunbury. “They’re (commissioners) the boss; they are the ones that need to tell the county manager and the water department what they need to do. We elected the commissioners to represent us.”

When asked why he hasn’t pushed the issue harder, other than a letter he sent on May 2 to the commissioners, Hoffler said it wasn’t his nature to, “rock the boat.”

“I’m a laid back guy; I don’t say a lot, but I feel, and I feel that others are in our county, backed into a corner and it was time to take some action. What they (county officials) are saying at the (commissioner) meetings and what they’re actually doing are two completely different things.”

Hoffler said one major issue was what he referenced as “favoritism shown to some water customers.”

“I can tell you the names of two people that received a personal call from the (water) billing department that they needed to come in and pay their bills before their service was shut off,” he said. “That’s not right, not unless they’re making personal calls to all those whose payments are late. They need to treat everybody the same way.”

Hoffler said his residential water service was cut off in January of 2015.

“I didn’t get a call beforehand,” he stressed. “When the guy came out to cut if off, I called the water department to check and see if we had an outstanding bill. When I was told there was an outstanding bill, I told them I would be right there to pay it and to leave my water meter connected. I was told they were going to cut it off anyway, and if I paid the bill that same afternoon I could have my water cut back on the following morning.

“I went to the office to pay my water bill, but they would not accept my check, which was made out for the amount due plus the late fees incurred.” Hoffler continued. “They said they would only accept cash, so I paid with cash and asked them to apply the check payment to my account.”

Hoffler also mentioned other instances of oversight within the water billing department. He told of a situation where a tenant in a house he rents went three months without receiving a bill, despite calling that to the attention of the authorities several times.

He said on Aug. 10, 2015, a Gates County water customer mailed a check in for their monthly service, but the payment apparently never made it to Gatesville.

“This particular customer never received a call about failing to pay the bill, not even a robo call,” Hoffler alleged. “That customer had their water cut off and was actually standing in their yard when the guy drove up to cut it off. He didn’t even have the decency to tell that 90-year-old customer what he was doing.”

In that case, Hoffler said the customer eventually received the water bill and check back by return mail.

“It was sent back on Sept. 11 (2015); the Postal Service had messed up the envelope and returned it to the customer,” he noted.

At the end of April of this year, Hoffler said another county water customer had the water cut off at a home they had lived in since late last year.

“That person had never received a water bill since moving in their new home back in November,” Hoffler stated. “However, that customer was still sending in an estimated payment and made a note to apply the payment to their new address. When they called about their water being cut off, I guess the billing folks realized they had made a mistake and cut the water back on.”

Hoffler said he had shared his concerns with Gates County Manager Natalie Rountree.

“I told her I felt there needed to be some changes in the way the water services are now being billed,” Hoffler said. “I said there is a need to send out a second bill as a reminder to pay for the water before it’s cut off. I asked her to bring that up before the commissioners for discussion and she said that she would not do that and the (billing) policies would not change. I didn’t realize that one person had that authority and felt it was the job of the manager to look out for the citizens of the county.”

In closing, Hoffler said another major concern is the changeover to a company in another state to handle the billing.

“The outsourcing of that service is ridiculous, basically because they kept the same number of people employed in the county’s billing office and now someone else handles that. I feel that’s a waste of taxpayer money,” he closed.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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