A flood of complaints (March 20, 1997)

Council, residents question Flint water bills


John Oliver thought a mistake was made when he received his Flint water bill and noticed his previous month’s payment had not been deducted.

But Oliver, 77, became suspicious after he talked to neighbors with the same problem.

There are people on Genesee Street, Ridgeway, Parkway and Carpenter Road; it’s really all over, it’s really a mess, Oliver said. The mailman told me he’s delivering bills that were already past the due date.

The Flint City Council also is upset over the number of complaints about water bills the past two weeks.

Something is drastically wrong, 3rd Ward Councilman Johnnie Tucker said at Wednesday’s committee meetings. I don’t know what the problem is, if it’s with the computers, but (residents) can’t get any answers. People are on a fixed income, and they can’t afford to pay their bills twice.

But Finance Director Marc Puckett, who oversees the collection process, disputed the council’s charges that residents are being billed twice for the same usage.

There are no double billings, he said. Within each fiscal year we have to have only 12 billings. We have a game plan to address the billing issue, and it’s working.

He added, however, that fewer customer service employees have caused some problems.

We have several vacancies that exist in the Customer Service Center that are in the process of being filled, Puckett said. That combined with a few women on maternity leave and previous computer problems has caused the meter readers to get behind and the (customer service employees) behind.

That answer did not sit well with Council President Scott Kincaid. There are serious problems, and the residents of Flint are suffering because of the lack of people to read meters, Kincaid said. That’s the administration’s fault for not making sure there are enough people to provide the service.

We appropriate money for your department, and it’s your responsibility to make sure there’s enough people to read the meters and do the billing.

Some council members said the vacancies are partly the result of the city’s early retirement program, which began in 1994. Vacancies often occur in departments other than the ones from which employees retire because it leads to employees moving to other departments.

Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Taylor said he was not satisfied with Puckett’s explanation of the problem. He said he received at least seven complaints on Tuesday.

These people deserve an answer and don’t want to hear bull, and I don’t want to hear it, he said.

Oliver and many other residents have taken their complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office.

Copyright Flint Journal / MLive Media Group (mlive.com). Used with permission.

Files dealing with Marc Puckett