In mid-November, Atlanta city officials promised angry Buckhed water customers attending a town hall meting they would be the first to receive new equipment the city said would provide more accurate readings of water use.

Interim Commissioner of Watershed Management Dexter White said Jan. 8 that “a couple of hundred of the new Ecoders have been installed and are being tested during a 30-to-60-day period.”

White said the city initially ordered 1,000 of the Ecoder meter reading devices, but only 500 came in the first shipment. He said a couple of hundred of those have already been installed on residential meters.

Since then, White said the city has gotten a second shipment of 500. So, the city now has about 800 of the new devices that still need to be installed.

City officials have promised that the new meters should fix billing problems city residents have faced. Some residents have seen their bills spike from tens or hundreds of dollars to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

“This is exactly why we need these data-locking heads on the meters,” Atlanta COO Peter Aman told angry residents in November. “The data-locking meter heads are a new technology which promises more accurate data collection from the water meters.”

White said there was a grace period on bill payments during the 30-to-60-day information gathering period with the new meters after their installation.

He said that during the period, customers only have to pay the normal average of their water bills from six to eight months ago.

However, White said that if the new Ecoder devices prove that the higher billing rates customers experienced were proper, the customers will be responsible for any extra water fees.

City officials met with more than 100 residents who attended a meeting Nov. 13 at the Northside Methodist Church in Buckhead to protest months of high water bills.

They complained that even though they had formally disputed these bills, they were being told to pay at least half of them.

Residents are charged late fees when they don’t pay their water bills and are threatened with having their water disconnected.

At the time, Wright reminded the angry home and business owners that this new DWM management had only been on the job for eight weeks, had already made many changes in the way the department is being run and asked to be given time to work out the problems.

Wright and Aman were joined at the meeting by water department FO Jim Beard to answer questions. They said they intended to clear up the problems.

Buckhead resident Bill Lucas said there were probably 100 people at the Saturday morning meeting at the Buckhead church.

“Probably 1,000-plus more have water problems,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it is one person, or hundreds or thousands. Everybody needs to have their problem fixed.”

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.