LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Arnold Line Water Association customers said the utility's refusal to change policies to improve customer service is a disservice to their community.
"If you're providing a public service, you're here to serve the public, and that's what we feel like they should be doing," said Terrence Lynch, who has been an Arnold Line customer for about four years. "We're just asking you to provide better customer service. That's it. Nothing hard."
Lynch said when he first moved into his current home from an apartment, it was his first time paying for water. Since then, he has watched his bill increase, had his water turned off and been told he could not pay his bill without his account number.
"There's been occasions where if the bill was due and I hadn't gone to pay it, the water was turned off at 7:30 before the office even opened in the morning," he said. "At one point, they want us to have our account numbers when we go up there, and for me, that was new. I showed up one day without my account number (but) with my address, the way I had been paying, and they told me, 'Well, we can't accept it that way. You have to go get your account number.' My water bill doesn't come to this house, so I had to go find it to get the account number to go back and pay it. I mean, that's an inconvenience for me if my bill is not coming to this house. That's just a few of the problems. It wasn't until I actually started doing research (that) I found out there were other people with the same complaints. For me, I was like, maybe it's just me. It's an isolated incident, and I'm causing this to myself. But if there's other people with the same complaints, then obviously there's something going wrong."
"It's not the customer's responsibility to ensure that the utility system runs smoothly," Britton said. "Utilities are to treat customers with respect and fairness."
Lynch said, "They're making it difficult. You look at all the other people we pay bills with - our electricity bill, our cable bill, things like that - it's convenient. They take the time. You don't have to have your account number. Mississippi Power, if you don't have your account number, you can't go through the drive through, but they won't stop you from paying your bill, which is what I feel like they (Arnold Line) should do. You know, 'Hey you don't have your account number? That's fine. We're going to give it to you. make sure that you have this with you when you come pay it on the next time.' You know, just make it convenient."
Lynch said Arnold Line appealing the commission's ruling shows a lack of care for customers.
"It seems like they don't want to do the service to the public," Lynch said. "They don't want to do that. They want to run things (the way) that they want to do, but when you're operating in an environment where you have to serve the community, we're entrusting you guys to provide us with water. I don't think anybody really complains about the water being hard. Sometimes you have hard water, but nobody's filing complaints against that. It's about the customer service is where all the complaints are coming from."
Ideally, Lynch said he would like the utility to put customers first when it is making decisions and make the requested changes.
"I would just like to see them just serve, serve our community the way it should be served," Lynch said. "We shouldn't have to get to the point where we have to get the Public Service Commission involved. I think this is something that if we did have residential meetings on the regular and they showed up or something like that, we could get this resolved without where it's at now. For them to fight it, it kind of shows you that they don't want to do their job because they're fighting it so hard. Provide me with some more sustenance. Give me something else. If I don't have my account number, allow me to pay my bill still. Let's go back to the old way before the all the complaints started coming up. Maybe we can get back on track and we can start anew. maybe we can start anew."
The next step in the appeals process for Arnold Line Water Association is to present oral arguments before all three public service commissioners, but no word on when a hearing could be scheduled.