GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Gulfport ended the flat rate billing system in November that it started in March, and now that the bills have come due, residents are flooding social media with complaints about bills as much as $200 or more.
They are also flooding the phones at the water department, enough that the city will be hiring more people just to take the calls.
City officials said there is a problem, but it’s more lack of communication.
“Any time you roll out new technology you’re going to go through those hurdles where you’re going to have customers that get a bill that doesn’t make sense,” said Ryan Merrill, assistant director of public works for the city. “And that’s why we welcome everybody to come in, let us sit down.”
The city replaced meter caps for most residences with a wireless sensor, and officials are comfortable with the technology’s accuracy.
“This product here allows us to do something that we’ve never been able to do,” Merrill said. “Now, we can put a time frame with an issue and an actual consumption that was used on that day and time.”
And that means a more accurate explanation of problems.
Officials agree that some of these bills are unreasonably high, but 99 percent of those cases are because of a leaking toilet.
“You know, when you think of a leak, it’s not always going to be that puddle in the yard or a puddle in your house,” Merrill said. “Sometimes you’ve got a toilet that’s just running, running, running and you’ve gotten used to that white noise.”
In addition, Merrill said that some residents are so new to the area that they thought the flat rate was their normal usage.
Officials agree that there could be some transmission issues with the system.
“There are situations where there is debris on top of the meter, and it might not be sending that signal because there’s so much debris or there’s a car parked on top of it,” said Merrill. There are some things that can obstruct the signal.”
Because of that, and in fear of damage, city officials request that residents keep debris away from all meters.