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Changes coming for water bills

GATESVILLE – Recommendations from Gates County Manager Tim Wilson that call for significant changes to how customers of the county’s public water system receive their bills and make payments have been approved.

The county commissioners, at their regularly scheduled meeting here Aug. 18, voted unanimously to approve the changes as outlined by Wilson. This comes on the heels of a study that looked at the county’s water billing system as well as customer complaints about that process.

“I have done some investigation into that and also met recently with the staff of the Water Department and Customer Service to further discuss the complaints heard and to seek their assistance and their input,” Wilson said.

Currently, water bills are sent out monthly, typically on the last business day of that month. The due date is the 16th of the following month. If the bill is not paid by that date, a 10 percent penalty is added.

Per state statute, a public water system can disconnect a customer’s water supply in the event the bill – plus any late payment penalty – is not paid within 10 days of the actual due date (which, in Gates County’s case is the 16th of each month).

“The water remains shut off until the amount owed to the county – being the original bill and the penalty – are paid in full,” Wilson stated. “In addition to that there is a $40 service fee charged when the county water department has to come out and reestablish the water service at the residence.”

Wilson said after meeting with staff, he recommends the following changes:

Water billing will change from monthly to every two months.

The bills will still be mailed at the end of a month and the due date remains on the 16th day of the following month. After the 16th day, there will no longer be a 10 percent late payment penalty imposed.

The water service reconnection fee will increase from $40 to $60.

“I believe this is a very manageable payment even though it’s for two months rather than one as most of the monthly bills are small in cost,” Wilson noted in offering explanations about his recommendations. “There are also a number of cost-saving measures involved. This will reduce the cost that the county currently incurs in conducting the reading of the water meters, the preparation of the billing, and the process of receiving those payments. All of those activities will be reduced by 50 percent.”

He added that the 10 days of non-payment after the 16th day of a month will be defined as a “grace period” but without a 10 percent late fee.

“[Per failure to pay] the water service will still be shut off after the 26th day of the month as it the current practice,” Wilson explained. “Water service will be restored upon full payment of the actual bill and the payment of the service reconnection fee.”

As to the decision to increase the reconnection fee by $20, Wilson said he based that on the fact that customers will have a 10-day grace period, without penalty, to pay their bill.

“By increasing that reconnection fee, that will hopefully be an incentive to prompt customers to pay their bill on time,” he stressed. “That fee can be avoided by paying the bill on time or within the 10-day grace period.”

Wilson said the Water Department will divide the county into two, equally geographic regions. Water customers in one region will receive their bills in odd-numbered months while the other half will be billed in even-numbered months.

He further stated he wants to provide ample public notice of these changes in advance.

“Tentatively, I would like to see this plan go into effect with the bills issued at the end of October of this year,” Wilson said. “I feel very confident it can be implemented by November of this year. Part of that is the establishment of the billing regions and giving the public ample notice of these changes.”

Wilson added that reducing in-half the number of meters that need to be read monthly will help free up the time that the Water Department needs to make repairs on the system.

“We’re losing treated water that’s being leaked into the ground,” he said.

Another caveat of the changes is that it might lead to the county once again handling all the billing and receivables instead of that being outsourced as is the current practice.

“That could be another cost-saving measure, but I need to give that a couple of months to see if that can all be internally handled by our staff,” Wilson stated.

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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