Town’s utility customers seething over sporadic bills

Taylor Says Town is Looking at Meter Reading Contractor

WINNSBORO – The Town of Winnsboro water department has received some of the new electronic water meters it ordered for Winnsboro customers while others are still delayed with supply chain issues.

But hundreds of the Town’s utility customers have become impatient with the wait as they continue to receive three and four-figure bills. Many have taken to Facebook to express their dissatisfaction with the Town’s broken billing system.

Customer Laura Thomas shamed the Town for letting it get to this point. She wrote: “Do we have any hope the Town will ever get our bills right again?”

Amanda Helt Smith wrote: “My bill for November was for $111. For December, it was $785. Tell me how? And we are down to one child because she left for college.”

Gail Floyd wrote: “I was out of town for a month…no one at my home…my utility bill was $142.00 the next month I was at home running everything the bill was 99.00 that month so I’ve been wondering as well!!”

Hundreds more posted similar messages. The bills are high, low, and sporadic.

Town Manager Jason Taylor said the Town has been stymied by a lack of meter readers, partly due to the fact that when the electronic meters are installed, their jobs would likely only be temporary.

“We have 11,000 meters to be read with only two to three people trying to keep up,” Taylor said. “It’s an impossible situation.”

As a result, customers frequently receive bills for two or more months at a time.

“I talked to Dominion to get advice from them about our lack of meter readers and see what direction they went,” Taylor said.  “They, too, say it’s almost impossible to keep meter readers staffed. As a result, they have contracted their meter reading out, and I anticipate we will do the same until our new smart meters arrive. I’m meeting tomorrow with a company that contracts meter reading to get that going.

 “I hate what’s happening for our customers and for the Town. We have invested about $4 million in the smart meters to get this corrected and give our customers the service they deserve as quickly as possible,” Taylor said. “But the new meters are held up in the supply chain problem across the nation.”

As they await the arrival – and then the installation – of the new meters, town officials are mulling a stop-gap solution to the erratic billing problems that have long plagued its utility customers.

“It’s going to take about two months to work out the contract meter work and get the readers trained. We really have no choice but to estimate the bills for the next two months,” Taylor said.

The town’s Finance Director Kathy Belton presented to council a plan to estimate bills for a targeted amount of 1400 KWH for electricity, 150 therms for gas and 3,000 gallons of water. 

“This will spread payments out,” Belton said.  “We have never done this before but this is an emergency situation. Plus, we can have a payment plan so customers can get caught up,” she said.

Taylor said the Town will do all it can to assist the customers during that time. He said he will be sending out a new clarification letter above and beyond what the Town just recently sent customers.

“It will tell customers that they are welcome to estimate their own bills each month if they wish, and just send what they can until we get our contract workers in place,” Taylor said. “We aren’t going to cut anyone off. If you get a high bill, pay what you think is reasonable at this point. We will catch up and true things up.”

“We welcome our customers to call us with any issue. We will work with them. This is a bad situation for our customers and we understand that,” Taylor said.

“I tell people to keep paying what you have been paying,” Councilman Demetrius Chatman said during last week’s council meeting. “Do what you normally do.” 

Councilman Danny Miller and Mayor John McMeekin both agreed customers need to be contacted with an apology and explanation.

Barbara Ball contributed to this story.

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