Gulfport Council Votes On Water Bill Dispute

"Your system stinks. Your water system really does stink," Orange Grove Resident Rod Jones told Gulfport city leaders.

About 40 people filled the Gulfport City Council Chamber, angry over their water bills.

"There's nobody but me and my wife, and our bill is $276. No notice, no nothing about this thing coming," Rufus Reed said.

"I don't know what the problem is about the water, why people are getting outrageous bills, why people are getting billed for water they're not using or meters aren't hooked up," Lorraine Santos said. "I know senior citizens will lose their homes and so will low income people, because they can't afford the high bills."

Many Orange Grove customers questioned whether their meters were read correctly.

"Right now, we don't trust what Optech's doing," Greg Werda said. "So that's why we need to have the things on the door to tell us hey, July 9th, your meter was read."

"When they come around our neighborhood and read the meters, they have nothing in their hands," Rod Jones said. "They're not writing anything down. They're running around like morons, and then we get high bills."

Councilman Ricky Dombrowski told those in attendance that the council is working to fix the problem.

"We need to review the complaints, case by case," Dombrowski said. "There are exceptions to the rule and that's what we're trying to do today."

That's why the city council agreed to follow Mayor's Ken Combs recommendations to deal with the disputed bills:

  • First, review customer complaints on a case by case basis.
  • Suspend the charges to re-read and test the meters, until OPTECH addresses the questionable bills.
  • Waive late fees for customers who don't have past due balances.
  • Adjust accounts where there are problems.
  • Continue to bill customers based on consumption.

OPTECH representatives say they're still trying to install about 300 to 400 meters, and say they'll do their best to address customer's complaints.

"I'm not going to stand here and tell you all the meter readings were correct," Bobby Knesal said. "There are bugs in the system that are being looked at. We're going to try to work with everybody to find the source of it."

Only Councilman Richard Rose voted against the mayor's recommendations, because he says all the meters haven't been installed in Orange Grove, so not everyone is being billed fairly.

Several residents also complained about high charges for sewer and debt service on their bills. The city council will address those concerns, at a special workshop on July 23rd.