SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - An embarrassment for the city and frustration for its residents. After more than a year of problems with Savannah's brand new water department billing system, the city is finally admitting it needs help.
Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez told the council he is hiring a third party to come in and look at the way the city processes water bills and collects money.
The mayor pro-tem said she normally doesn't like hiring consulting and outside parties for city work. This time, though, it's necessary.
The Savannah water bill crisis will soon get some new input. But will that new input fix an old problem that frustrated thousands of residents and left council members answering embarrassing questions? They sure hope so.
"It's important at this point to once for all solve this problem. It's been going on far too long," said Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Bell.
Hernandez clearly believes the system the city uses right now was the wrong choice to start with.
"It's clear to me that we are a learning lab for the company, we're their largest customer and their product is simply not capable of meeting our needs," said Hernandez in a previous council meeting.
Why it took so long to realize that is anyone's guess. The city started using MS Govern in 2008 in an effort to update the payment options. The eight years it took to create the program and the failed implementation of an online payment system in early 2016 led to this problem.
Water bills skyrocketed hundreds of dollars in some cases and the mailing system flopped.
"I think I ended up owing $680 all at one time and right before the holidays was not a good thing," said resident Lou Shiavone.
The issue is one of several that the new city manager recognized his first few weeks in the job.
Now, council members who had been against outside help are all for it here.
"We can all see that this has plagued us, plagued the city, and it's gotten to a point now that we need to solve this," said Bell.
We don't know when this third party will start work or how much it will cost. Thousands here in Savannah hope it fixes what turned out to be a nightmare in 2016.
The water and sewage department is its own entity. The money they collect goes back to the maintenance and service of the water and sewage systems. It is a concern of some city leaders whether this money will ever be collected.