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{STREETZ MORNING TAKEOVER} CITY OF ATLANTA LOSES MILLIONS OVER BILLING SLIP-UP

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RESIDENTS OF BUCKHEAD CONDO NOT CHARGED FOR WATER OR SEWER FOR 14 YEARS

WSB-TV 2 reported:

A Channel 2 Action News investigation discovered that the city of Atlanta is giving away $500,000 in water and sewer services every month.

The Department of Watershed Management initially refused to release the records to Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher.

The records are public and reviewable by anyone submitting a request under the Georgia Open Records Act. After a three-month battle — in which WSB-TV threatened legal action — the city finally relented.

The data reveals the city’s mistakes in billing cost millions every year.

It’s an embarrassing time for Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management.

Belcher broke the story in July of a luxury high-rise condominium building in Buckhead that wasn’t fully billed for water and sewer for more than 14 years.

After initially saying they would not back-bill the building, Watershed Management officials backtracked and sent a demand letter for nearly $500,000.

Now Belcher has learned thousands of residential and commercial accounts considered vacant by the city have been using water services for years and not receiving a bill.

At the top of the list, the massive North Atlanta High School, which opened in 2013. Atlanta Public Schools confirmed to Channel 2 Action News the school has not received any bills for water and sewer in that time.

Belcher estimates the losses at $165,000 in just the past six months.

The three-year total would be closer to $1 million that the city failed to bill.

Watershed Management records show a mansion in northwest Atlanta has an account listed as vacant, that has actually used nearly $11,000 of water in the past six months.

A home in southwest Atlanta is also listed as vacant, but when Belcher lifted up the meter cover, he could see the meter spinning wildly, indicating enormous usage.

Belcher estimates the home has been unbilled for $70,000 worth of services in just the past six months.

Belcher discovered these, and more than 2,000 other unbilled accounts directly from city’s own records. Belcher had to fight the Department of Watershed Management for three months to get the records

But when the department relented, Belcher found millions of dollars in losses.

Belcher began by requesting a database of thousands of accounts listed as vacant and that were supposedly not using water or sewer.

In analyzing the data, Belcher discovered more than 2,000 accounts that had month-to-month increases in water consumption. Because they are designated as “vacant/shut off” in the city’s billing system, no bill is sent.

Belcher added estimated sewer fees, which are about three times the cost of water, to his calculations. Based on that, Belcher estimates the city unknowingly has been giving away about $500,000 a month, more than $3 million every six months.

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