City Council member Dana Goolsby left a City Council work session in a huff Monday, after Finance Director Jim Mahoney implied he was too busy to notify residents about possible upcoming billing issues.
Goolsby left after Mayor Presley asked whether residents were notified their last bill reflected only two weeks of usage, and that, consequently, their next bill will increase because it reflects a full four-week cycle. Changing water bill cycles and technical problems in the billing department have confused many residents over the last several months.
After Mahoney said he had not notified residents of the latest change in the billing cycle, Presley said it would be a good idea if he did.
“I'm kind of busy,” Mahoney said softly. When Goolsby asked what he had said, Mahoney repeated it. That's when Goolsby left the room.
City Manager Leslie Cloer assured council members she would work to get mailings out to customers, and post information about upcoming water bills on social media.
Water billing has been a hot-button issue with city residents for months. Late last year, a computer error brought billing to a stand-still, resulting in residents being charged for a six-week, rather than a four-week cycle, with no notification from the city about the problem.
Several weeks ago, the city mistakenly shut off the water, without notification, to more than 100 residents. Mahoney said the technical issues had been fixed, and the employee responsible for the mistakes terminated.
The work session discussion became heated when, in talking about meter replacement throughout the city, several council members pointed out that meters weren't the central problem – it was human error in Mahoney's department.
District 1 Council member Larissa Loveless said the department has been estimating some residential water use. Mahoney denied that.
“My bill has been exactly the same for months,” Goolsby said. “To say there has been no estimating on water bills flies in the face of every resident of Palestine.”
District 4 Councilman Joe Baxter said it would be impossible to wash the same amount of clothes, flush the same amount of times, and drink the same amount of water, by chance, every month.
“I can't explain it,” Mahoney said to the council. “But if I find someone estimating, I will fire them.”
District 6 Council member Ann Connor told Mahoney the issues with the water department happened under his watch, and he needed to take responsibility.
“It's your department,” she said. “It's your problem, and it wasn't a problem a year ago.”