10-04 water bill-01

Nearly 100 residents had water shut off Monday.  Despite lack of communication from the billing department, city officials said the residents would have to pay the $50 to re-establish water.

Nearly 100 residents cut off from the city's water supply this week, some without notice, face a $50 disconnect fee to get their water back on.

At issue, again, is a lack of communication by the city, residents said Wednesday.

Their water bills for December were unexpectedly high, after a computer outage in the city's billing department made it impossible for crews to check water meters, or for customers to pay their bills. With no accurate billing available, residents didn't know they were in arrears while they continued to receive water.

Even so, city officials won't automatically waive fees to reconnect water, Palestine Finance Director Jim Mahoney told the Herald-Press Tuesday. Instead, officials will consider each individually.

Attempts by the Herald-Press to contact City Manager Leslie Cloer were unsuccessful.

District 2 Councilman Mitchell Jordan told the Herald-Press the city's lack of communication should preclude residents from having to pay a disconnect fee.

“The city promotes events like the Hot Pepper Festival, and Polar Express for months,” he said. “If we can get the word out about that, we should be able to let people know about things that can effect their lives.”

Mayor Steve Presley agreed. “City Council has addressed this type of lack of communication in the past,” he said. “This whole water issue is already on the agenda for the next council meeting.”

Presley said he knows some residents might not be able to pay the reconnect fee.

“I know what I would like to see done, but any immediate action on this is up to the city manager [Leslie Cloer],” he said. “I'm speaking with her about it this afternoon. After all, it's the duty of the mayor, and the council, to do what's best for the residents of our community.”

In September, customers disconnected during the failed roll-out of a billing plan change were reconnected to city water, with cut-off fees waived or refunded.

Not this time, Mahoney said.

“When the computers were down, we couldn't collect on bills,” he said. “And because we couldn't read meters, many people actually had extra time to pay their bills.”

Residents pointed out, however, that the city didn't bill them, or warn them of a cut-off.

During the several weeks the computers were down, residents continued to use water, and meters continued to roll. By the time water meters were read, many residents saw drastic increases in their bills.

On social media, residents complained of $100 to nearly $200 increases in their bills – with no explanation from the city.

No mention was made on the city website, nor posted in City Hall, about the probability of higher bills, or the possibility of disconnection due to the city's computer outage.

Moreover, some residents on social media stated they were disconnected without notice.

District 5 Council-member Dana Goolsby on social media urged residents with water bill issues to contact her. “It's the least I could do,” Goolsby told the Herald-Press. “I'm by no means an expert, but I can help where I can, and get residents to the right people when I can't.”

Goolsby called the timing terrible. “We just had a water bill increase, a change in our trash collection, and the holidays,” she said. “I believe communication on the part of the city would have detoured a lot of this.”

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