For the past six months, Virginia Evans said sometimes her toilets wouldn’t flush or the water coming out of the faucets at her Jackson, Mississippi home was brown and had low pressure.
The water crisis, Evans said, has been so alarming that he remains afraid to drink or cook with it. despite raising more than state officials–40 days of boiling water last month and declaring the water safe.
So when the city sent him a Sept. 9 water bill for nearly $4,000, Evans said he was shocked.
“It’s not fair to anybody, any resident of the city of Jackson,” Evans told CNN. “I don’t know what they have to do, but they have to do something because nobody should have to pay that amount when you can’t even use the water.”
Evans is among many Jackson residents complaining about their water bills in the weeks following the latest crisis that left most of the city without clean drinking water for nearly two months. In some cases, residents say their bills have been so high they can’t afford them and are asking the city of Jackson, which runs the water system, to provide relief. A quarter of Jackson’s residents live in poverty.
In a statement to CNN this week, a city spokeswoman said its new meters “were reading accurately based on the rating so far.”
“There are some other software-related issues that are causing problems with the new meters for some residents,” spokeswoman Melissa Payne said in a statement. “These issues have been identified and they are working to address the issues.”
The city began installing the new water billing system last year, and a Jackson official told the Clarion-Ledger that most residential customers were charged a flat fee based on average monthly water usage of $67.50 per home.
Ashby Foote Jackson City President told CNN in a text message that water billing “has been a shortfall for the city for too long.”
However, Foote said the collection revenue was necessary to fund the delivery of water services.
Foote encouraged residents to contact the city’s water billing department if they believe their bills are incorrect or need payment plans.
The city of Jackson has had problems with its water system. Residents and activists point to it as one of the main drivers of years of systemic neglect. Some capitals have accused the state of failing to respond to requests for help to upgrade the poor water system.
According to the most recent data from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the state’s bill for Jackson’s water crisis this year has reached $12.6 million. Bottled water for distribution events is about 25% of that amount.
Some residents say they have tried to get help with their water bill but have had no luck.
Evans said she contacted the city and was directed to an agency that provides financial assistance to residents in need. The agency told him he needed information from the water department, he said, and the department told him it wasn’t providing that information. He is still waiting to find out if he will get help. Evans said her water bill has fluctuated in the past and she has been billed inconsistently. Still, he said he believed the city would offer some grace after the latest crisis.
“Like everyone else here, we’re frustrated,” Evans said.
Annie Brown said she received a $700 water bill in September and can’t pay it. In the process of requesting invoice support from a local group. Brown, who is disabled, said her water is still brown some days and she can’t believe the city will bill her for water after so many problems.
“My story is you’re trying to pay for someone else’s mistake,” Brown said. “I don’t know what’s going on in this city.”
Another resident, Laura Crowley, said her September water bill was $93 compared to $37 the previous month. While Crowley was able to pay the bill, he still didn’t think it should increase after the city faced a water crisis. Crowley said some Jackson residents, including himself, are still boiling their water as a precaution because the city has issued several boil water advisories in recent years.
“It’s not fair because we didn’t have (clean) water for a long time and we couldn’t use the water, but then our water bill just keeps going up,” Crowley said. “They don’t care about us. The poor don’t care. They don’t care about the people who are trying to work and take care of the bills.’