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SPEAKING OUT — Pam Godin, with microphone, commands attention from Dana McCool, standing center, and Miriam Schechter, seated, during the Water Committee’s forum at Deltona City Hall. Customers of Deltona Water often say they receive high bills in spite of their determined efforts to reduce water usage. The Dec. 3 public meeting at Deltona City Hall drew about 50 people, who voiced concerns for KPMG, an auditing firm hired by the city to conduct an independent analysis of the utility department’s billing practices. The city is paying KPMG $200,000 for its services.

An independent auditor looking into Deltona Water’s ways of doing business got an earful from water customers Dec. 3.

About 50 people attended the forum at Deltona City Hall to tell their stories of high bills and an unresponsive government bureaucracy.

KPMG auditor Matt Berry said his firm is reviewing billing practices, customer service, water treatment and distribution, as well as the 25-percent surcharge on water and sewage charged to customers living outside Deltona city limits.

Berry declined to say when the KPMG audit may be finished, adding that his company’s policy is to refrain from responding to questions from the media.

Deltona City Manager Jane Shang sat in on the Water Committee’s public forum at Deltona City Hall.

“We are here to listen. If you have problems, you can reach out to the staff,” Shang told the audience.

Frustrated customers demanded to know why their bills were rising, after they had detected no leaks and had taken more steps to reduce household water use.

“Seventy dollars — and now we’re up to $250. How did that happen?” Deborah Koegler asked. “We’re using less water, and we’re being charged more.”

“How do I use 23,000 gallons? I don’t take five showers a day,” Miriam Schechter said. “I’m on a fixed income.”

Another newly settled Deltonan said her monthly water bill is usually about $44, but she wonders if even that is excessive.

“I work. I do no laundry,” she said, noting she washes her clothing at a laundromat.

Barbara Kirchhof wanted to know why her bills had risen so sharply over the past few months. Her $50.16 bill for October showed a usage of 10,640 gallons of water, but her November bill showed a usage of 25,610 gallons — at a cost of $172.96.

“I don’t use the dishwasher,” she said, adding her home has a septic tank, rather than relying on the city’s sewage system.

Earlier this year, the City Commission ratified a 15-percent across-the-board increase in water rates and charges, effective Oct. 1.

“Your cries are not going unheard,” Deltona Strong President Dana McCool told the critics. McCool made a name for herself in 2018, when she paid her water bill of almost $500 with a wagonload of loose pennies.

McCool became a folk hero of sorts and rallied support for a thorough examination of Deltona Water.

State Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, also supports the audit. Santiago served on the Deltona City Commission before being elected to the Florida House of Representatives’ District 27 seat.

Deltona is paying $200,000 to KPMG for the Deltona Water audit.

Deltona Water has approximately 33,000 customers. About 6,000 of those accounts are also connected to the municipal sewage system.