Birmingham Water Works says it’s working to catch up after some customers go months without a bill
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Thousands of Birmingham Water Works customers who’ve gone months without getting a bill may be facing months more of uncertainty, according to the utility’s general manager.
“During January and February, we estimated a little over 60,000 accounts each one of those months, and we’re at the point now where we’re probably about 13,000 accounts behind in the editing process that got us behind in December and January,” says BWWB General Manager Michael Johnson.
Johnson blames a COVID spike among BWWB meter readers and a shortage of workers in the utility’s billing department for the backlog in bills, and for the utility having to estimate almost 1/3rd of its residential customers for the first two months of this year.
We’ve heard from lots of BWWB customers who haven’t gotten a bill in months, and are wondering how much they will owe once they do.
“A few weeks ago I called back and said ‘It’s been 3 months since I had my last bill, prior to that I had to call to get one, what’s happening?’” explains BWWB customer and Hoover homeowner Josh Clarke. “That was 2, 2 1/2 weeks ago, was promised a bill and promised a call back from a supervisor, and have received neither one of them.”
“I logged in and I can see the meter readings for each month that we haven’t gotten a bill. Incredibly frustrating,” Clarke continued. “I mean when you are in the current situation we’re in---everything is more expensive than it’s ever been. So we’re looking at groceries going up, gas going up, and now they’re gonna expect me to pay 3 or 4 or 5 months at 1 time? We have 4 kids. That’s hard for me to swallow as I think about how do we budget for that, what does that look like? Their answer is “go ahead and pay, pay what you think you owe, and we’ll take it off the bill.” And that’s not something I’m comfortable with. With all of the history we’ve seen with Birmingham Water Works, I’m not going to give my money to an organization that doesn’t have a bill attached, that I’m not guaranteed is actually going to show up when it’s time for that bill to be processed.”
“I understand their frustration and again empathize with them, it’s not a situation we want to be in,” Johnson explains. “Right now we’re estimating, and this is an estimate, that we’ll be caught up in the early fall. That is with previous accounts and individual accounts that may have an issue where they’re going through that edit process.”
Clarke says this level of customer service would be unacceptable in any industry where the provider faced competition.
“We’re getting promised different things and they’re never coming to, so if there was another option, we would’ve been there months ago. Integrity and transparency are what everyone counts on---especially when you’re talking about their money. To see an organization not have that as top priorities is something that makes me real uncomfortable.”
Johnson says the utility is working to clear the backlog starting with customers who’ve gone the longest without a bill, and says by fall, the Birmingham Water Works is aiming for customers to only get one bill at a time, rather than multiple bills for past months coming all at once or within a few days. But that could still happen to thousands of customers in the next few months.
“As we clear them, we’re clearing the oldest bills first,” Johnson says. “Now I’m not saying there won’t be one because in some circumstances, it’s difficult because of what some of the customers’ issues may be, in resolving the account and working with the customer, but we’re working the oldest ones first.”
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