In the last six months, Virginia Evans said sometimes her toilets wouldn’t flush or the water coming out the faucets at her Jackson, Mississippi home, was brown and had low pressure.
The water crisis, Evans said, has been so troubling that she remains afraid to drink or cook with it despite state officials lifting a more-than-40-day boil-water notice last month and declaring the water safe.
So when the city mailed her a water bill for nearly $4,000 dated Sept. 9, Evans said she was shocked.
“It’s not fair for anyone, any resident in the city of Jackson,” Evans told CNN. “I don’t know what they need to do but they need to do something because no one should be paying this amount when you’re not even able to use the water.”
Evans is among the many Jackson residents who are complaining of high water bills in the weeks following the most recent crisis that left the majority-Black city without clean drinking water for nearly two months. In some cases, residents say the bills have been so high, they can’t afford them and they are pleading for the city of Jackson, which runs the water system, to offer some relief. Around a quarter of Jackson residents live in poverty.
In a statement to CNN this week, a spokeswoman for the city said its new meters were “reading accurately based on our assessment to date.”
“There are some remaining software-related issues that are creating issues for some residents with new meters,” spokeswoman Melissa Payne said in the statement. “These issues have been identified and work is underway to address the issues.”
The city began installing a new water billing system last year, and a Jackson official told the Clarion-Ledger newspaper most residential customers were charged a flat fee based on an average monthly water usage of $67.50 per household.
Jackson City Council president Ashby Foote said in a text message to CNN that water billing “has been a shortcoming of the city for way too long.”
Still, Foote said that collection revenues were necessary to fund the delivery of water services.
Foote encouraged residents to reach out to the city’s water billing department if they believe their bills are wrong or if they need payment plans.
The city of Jackson has long faced issues with its water system. Residents and activists point to years of systemic neglect as one of the main drivers. Some city leaders have blamed the state for not answering their calls for assistance with upgrading the decrepit water system.
According to the most recent data from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the state’s bill for the Jackson water crisis this year has reached $12.6 million. Bottled water for distribution events accounts for about 25% of that amount.
‘We are frustrated’
Some residents say they have tried to get help with their water bills but haven’t had any luck.
Evans said she contacted the city and was directed to an agency that provides financial assistance for residents in need. The agency told her it needed information from the water department, she said, adding the department told her it doesn’t provide that information. She is still waiting to hear back about whether she will get help. Evans said her water bills have fluctuated in the past and she’s been billed inconsistently. However, she said she thought after the recent crisis, the city would offer some grace.
“Like everyone else that’s here, we are frustrated,” Evans said.
Annie Brown said she received a $700 water bill in September and can’t afford to pay it. She is in the process of applying for bill assistance from a local group. Brown, who is disabled, said her water is still brown some days and she can’t believe the city would bill her for water after there have been so many issues with it.
“My story is that you’re trying to pay for somebody 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 prior month. While Crowley was able to pay the bill, she still didn’t think it should have increased after the city faced a water crisis. Crowley said some Jackson residents, including herself, are still boiling their water as a precaution because the city has issued so many boil-water advisories in recent years.
“It’s not fair because of the simple fact that we didn’t have (clean) water for a long time and we couldn’t use our water but then our water bill is steady going up,” Crowley said. “They don’t care about us. They don’t care about the poor. They don’t care about the people that’s trying to work and take care of their bills.”
CNN’s Jade Gordon and Chuck Johnston contributed.