Service fee on hold

Water coming out of the faucet  

A $5 service fee charged by the county water department will be on hold until officials can spread the word about the charge.

The fee is charged if a customer requires a county water department employee to pay a bill over the telephone with a credit or debit card. The fee is not charged to customers who use the automated system. It was set to go into effect July 1.

County commissioners voted at Monday’s meeting to ask the county water department to delay charging the fee until customers could be better informed about the extra cost and how to avoid it. 

Commissioner Ricky Bullard asked the board to consider eliminating the fee, which was instituted when a new pay by phone system was put in place.  

Bullard noted that the policy on the fee is confusing to some customers, and that some elderly residents require assistance using a card to pay their bill. He said that while the minutes indicated he voted for the fee earlier this year, he wanted to “rescind” his vote.

“Between the pandemic and the economy, I don’t think it’s right we should be adding to the burden people are already struggling.”

As a result of the request, commissioners also discussed the workload for the water department, which has seven employees. Several board members said that it’s not uncommon to call the county water office and not get an answer.

“I know about dealing with customers,” Bullard said. “If you have someone in front of you, sometimes you have to excuse yourself and answer the phone. People understand that, even if you have to immediately put them on hold.”

County Manager Mike Stephens said that there are multiple phone lines going to the water department, but sometimes they get backed up.
“Sometimes there are two or three lines busy at a time,” Stephens said.

Commissioner James Prevatte said that the water department has around 1,500 interactions a week, and most are by telephone. As the county attempts to expand its water districts, Prevatte said, more customers may need assistance from the water department.

“We may need to look at getting them some help if that will solve the problem,” he said.

“If there’s a body there to answer the phone, it needs to be answered,” Commissioner Trent Burroughs said.

Commissioners pushed back a final decision on the fee until after the board can meet with water department officials. They did instruct Stephens to ensure the water department begins printing the toll-free payment number on all future water bills.

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Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at [email protected].