Branch Heights residents protest water shut-offs Eutaw City Council approves motion for a state audit of the Water Department

Mayor Raymond Steele addresses Branch Heights residents.

At its October 22, 2019 regular meeting the Eutaw City Council approved a motion by a vote of 4 to 2 to conduct a state audit of the City’s water department. Council members: Latasha Johnson, Joe Lee Powell, Sheila H. Smith and LaJeffrey Carpenter voted in favor while Councilman Bennie Abrams and Mayor Raymond Steele voted against the motion.
The Eutaw City Council has been expressing concern and discontent with the operation of the City Water Department for more than a year. The Council concerns include problems with the operation and accuracy of the self-reporting water meters; problems with the soft wear reading the meters and creating the water bills, and a drop-off in revenues from the water department due to billing and collection problems.

The Council asked the Mayor repeatedly to correct problems with the water system and billing. The Mayor has said he is handling the problems but the Council members point out that there has not been any improvement in the operation of the department.
Many of the City’s 1,400+ water customers report that they receive the same monthly minimum water bills each month regardless of usage. Other users report not receiving bills for months and then receiving a large bill all at once, which they say they cannot afford.
Council member Latasha Brown,” I made the motion for a state audit because we have got to get to the bottom of the problems in our water department. We need an independent review of the status of the meters, billing, collection and all other aspects of the system.

City shuts off water to 50 homes in Branch Heights

Mayor Raymond Steele says in response to the concerns of the City Council for the financial stability of the City Water Department that he decided to shut-off water supplies to 50 homes in Branch Heights that were more than three months behind in their water bills.
This action against the backdrop of unresolved problems in the City Water Department caused an uproar with many Branch Heights water customers crowding City Hall on Monday, October 28, 2019 for answers to the water shut-off, which they considered arbitrary and unfair.
“We want to have regular and quality water services. We are willing to pay but we want good water to drink not cloudy water and sometimes brown or red water. We also want to be sure the meters are reading correctly – so we will be billed monthly and fairly for our water usage,” said one angry Branch Heights resident.
In response to the citizen complaints, Mayor Steele said that he would turn the water back on and require all customers to pay their back bills by the end of November or face shut-off again. When asked if he would accept payment agreements for past water charges, Mayor Steele said the City needs to be paid like other utilities. People don’t ask Spire Gas Company or Alabama Power for payment plans, they pay their bills or get cut-off.

The Mayor also agreed to flush the lines in Branch Heights to clear the water system of sediments, which make it cloudy or different colors. “We will flush the lines to clear up the water,” said Steele.
Councilwoman Latasha Johnson said she is worried that the Mayor is not really looking for long-term solutions to the problems of the City Water Department and system. “We need him to respond with a plan to resolve the long term financial problems of the system, make sure all the meters are working properly, work out reasonable repayment plans with people for their past debts and operate in a fair and equitable manner with all customers.”

City Council other business

In other business, the Eutaw City Council:

• agreed to find space for the offices of Ms. Lovie Parks, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, at the Carver Community Center facilities;

• approved a resolution, above the Mayor’s objections, to advertise for bids on the roads and streets in King Village. The Mayor said that there are other streets in town, which are in more need of paving and repair than King Village. He pointed to West End Avenue, which suffered from erosion due to recent storms, as more deserving than King Village, at this time;
• approved request of Ducks Unlimited for use of Carver School Gym, for their annual fundraising banquet on November 8, 2019, which included a special liquor license for the occasion;

• approved travel for Councilman Joe Lee Powell to attend Alabama League of Municipalities committee meeting in Montgomery on November 7, 2019.