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Change factors in water leaks
County revamps process for relief
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Forsyth County News
When Brian Jacowitz opened his water bill in February, he was hit with a nasty surprise.

He owed $3,103.20 for water and sewer charges at his Windermere home.

An irrigation leak in his back yard from burst pipes resulted in his bill being more than 30 times the usual monthly payment.

The calculation was based on a county water leakage billing adjustment policy approved in November.

The policy excluded irrigation systems from being eligible for any adjustment, which meant Jacowitz had to pay the exponential increase associated with accidentally using 219,200 gallons in a month.

"That policy allows Forsyth County to profit from its citizens misfortunes," Jacowitz told the board in July while appealing his bill.

Commissioners sympathized and began crafting a more lenient water leakage billing adjustment process.

The new policy, adopted Thursday by a 5-0 vote, will charge customers who can demonstrate a bona fide leak on the first tier rate in the county's five-tier system.

"The tier rates are still in effect," said Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt. "All we're saying is we're going to be very consumer friendly and instead of charging the tiers on a leak we're going to charge for tier 1, the basic level."

According to the policy, the total adjustment will be calculated by taking the customer's average monthly water consumption for the "most comparable four months" and pay that amount plus any additional water used on the tier 1 residential rate.

If the water impacted the county's sewer systems, those charges will also apply.

Accounts used only for irrigation will be charged in the same way, except for under the tier 2 rates due to having initial higher costs, Merritt said.
The customer's bill will still at first appear astronomical without an adjustment, since using a high volume of water raises the base price on the tiered system.

Tier 1 charges $3.40 per thousand gallons, while tier 5, any use beyond 36,000 gallons, charges $10 per thousand gallons.

The November policy, which was repealed Thursday, did not allow customers with irrigation leaks to get a billing adjustment and also allowed just one adjustment per five-year period.

Residential customers will be eligible for an adjustment each year, but they may be required to make improvements to their systems to prevent future leaks.

Customers eligible for a leak adjustment must be residential accounts that haven't had landscaping installed or home construction in at least 90 days.

Another new aspect of the policy is quicker deadlines in getting an appeal resolved and a more clear path in appealing an unexpectedly high water bill.

Requests will go directly to the county manager, rather than the previous path through customer service, the zoning board of appeals and the county commission.

Jacowitz said he had to spend $700 to have his appeal reach the commission, which reduced his total bill to $1,033.57 minus the $250 to have the hearing in August.

As the commission discussed changes to the policy, several of Jacowitz's ideas were incorporated.

"It is more similar to what he proposed. We tried to listen," Merritt said. "I think [the commissioners] were responsive."