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Customers blast Tannehill Sewer; calling it "unethical" for billing practices

Sewer system under fire for billing

Update:

Lake View's Mayor Calhoun is asking all homeowners who are having trouble with the sewer company's billing to fill out a complaint form. You can stop by the town hall to pick one up or call for one to be emailed to you. The task force will look at the complaints to come up with recommendations for better services.

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Neighbors in one Tuscaloosa County community are in a big bind. Their sewer bills top $5,000, even $10,000. A number of residents have called Fighting For You. It's been a battle on and off for years between homeowners and Tannehill Sewer System which is a private company and apparently answers to nobody. Now residents say this company's tactics have hit a new low, while bills have hit a new high.

"He threatened a warrant for our arrest for tampering with the water line," explains Lindsay Davis. The new homeowners got that along with a staggering bill from Tannehill Sewer: $6,669.

Ben and Lindsay Davis were accused of "unauthorized discharge-- cut lock off valve" which meant a whopping $5,000 penalty. They claim they didn't touch anything. In fact the couple had only moved in the week before with their children. They intend to use the home as a rental property once their main home is built.

Lindsay Davis said they asked the company for an explanation of the charges and the company could offer no proof they had tampered with the lines. The family says they won't be bullied. They initially had to pay $1,000 just to hook up their sewer services. They were told it was so much because they had to catch up the past account on the property. They reluctantly paid that, but now say they've had enough.

"I really think someone needs to stand up to him," says Lindsay Davis. The "him" is manager and system owner J. Michael White. Other families are also unhappy with bills they can't afford to pay. They sent us copies of their bills that run thousands of dollars. One woman said she tried to make partial payments to catch up but the utility would not work with her.

The flat sewer fee is $92 a month and slated to go up another seven dollars next year. Compare that to the average sewer bill in Jefferson County which runs $46 a month.

When you don't pay Tannehill Sewer, the company cuts off your water according to homeowners. That even though a letter from the Warrior River Water Board which serves the area reads: "The board has not authorized and will not authorize any turn off of water to enforce unpaid sewer bills."

We tried to find Tannehill Sewer's offices to question billing practices. A listed Leeds address is vacant. Our calls were not returned. An email response to our inquiry blamed homeowners for not paying their bills. It reads in part: "We are very hopeful that this tiny minority of customers will choose to fulfill their obligations without further delay."

Lake View Mayor Paul Calhoun says he has appointed a task force to look into the complaints. He believes GUSC, Government Utilities Service Corporation which oversees Tannehill Sewer isn't getting the job done. The council appoints members of the community and a council member to GUSC. He says GUSC works well in other cities and he's not sure what the problem is with their set up.

"The town doesn't have any authority over the utility at all," explains Mayor Calhoun. But he and others realize letting this situation continue to fester could stifle development. Buyers may shy away from an area where a utility is considered so hostile to customers. Homes are under construction in the Tannehill Preserve. Residents there and in nearby communities do not have the option of going on septic tanks. "This is going to hurt if we don't get a handle on it quickly," remarks Calhoun.

Since Tannehill is a private sewer company, local governments are limited in trying to intervene. State Representative Rich Wingo says they are looking at this at the state level as well. He has heard complaints. Some homeowners say their only option may be to move.

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