A water provider in Mississippi is cracking down on customers after the city utility department found out it had run up a $3.4 million deficit.
That means cutting off water service to delinquent ratepayers and conducting inspections to ensure people are not drawing water illegally, according to WLOX. Ratepayers in Moss Point, MS, are furious.
Misty Douglas, whose mother lost water service, said the department did not give adequate notice to customers about potential shutoffs.
"The fact is there are no bills. There are no notices. This came out of thin air, and all they have to do is write that on a piece of paper," Douglas said.
Douglas’ mother was told to pay over $1,000 to have her water service restored. The mother said her landlord never provided notice about water bills.
“City clerk Stephanie Coleman said the city is working with residents as best they can, but they've had to create a strict policy, which is laid out to prevent the city from losing even more money and adding on to the department's $3.4 million deficit,” according to WLOX.
“She said the city would work with residents to pay in increment plans until the back dues are paid, and the same thing goes for people with multiple accounts,” the report said.
The utilities department ran up its deficit in part due to mismanagement, according to the Sun Herald. An internal probe showed that former employees had been “voiding out the receipts for the small payments on account and pocketing the cash,” the report said.
“In other cases, customer weren’t paying at all. The city has determined at least 13 percent of its customers weren’t paying their bills and 7 percent more were stealing the services through illegal direct hookups,” the report said.
Water shutoffs are controversial collection tool in the water industry. When Detroit instituted mass water shutoffs in 2014, the United Nations said it was violating human rights.
"Three UN experts criticized the department's aggressive practice, saying that stopping access to water for those who can't afford to pay 'constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights,'" The Huffington Post reported.
To read more about how utilities interact with ratepayers visit Water Online’s Consumer Outreach Solutions Center.
Image credit: “Money" Pictures of Money © 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/