Having moved from rental home to rental home many times around Copperas Cove in just the past three years, residents Rachel and Chase Dowling have become numb dealing with the city’s third-party water supplier.
Complaints of alleged errors measuring water usage and billing customers have earned the supplier, FATHOM, a notorious reputation in the city. City council meetings are full to the brim with residents who list complaints during public forum each time FATHOM appears on agendas.
Most recently, in the Aug. 21 council meeting, an update from a FATHOM representative drew an outburst from residents.
The city of Copperas Cove entered into an agreement with FATHOM on May 17, 2016, with a one-time implementation fee of $7 million. The city is contracted for 15 years of FATHOM service, an agreement that automatically renews each year.
Complaints revolve around claimed instances where water has been cut off in spite of bills being paid.
City spokesman Kevin Keller said during the period between the city receiving a disconnect notice, and disconnecting the water service, some customers have paid their past-due amounts but are disconnected, Keller said.
“These situations are unfortunate and are rectified as quickly as possible,” Keller said. “The city continues to work closely with FATHOM to ensure disconnect notices are up to date before city staff completes disconnections to avoid these situations. City staff takes prompt action to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.”
Brad Dreier, FATHOM spokesman, acknowledged this gap in correspondence between the supplier and cities can occur, but staff works every weekday to minimize these instances.
“We make every effort to ensure cancellations happen before bills are paid,” Dreier said.
Similarly, Dreier urged customers who disagree with billing amounts to reach out to the company.
“If they feel they’ve been disconnected, or something’s happened in error, all they have to do is call us.”
From a consumer perspective, the Dowlings remember that transition in 2016 being a turbulent one. The bills for months with relatively steady water usage would spike anywhere from $20, up to more than $100.
“There just wasn’t any flow. Prices would go up and you just wouldn’t know what to do about it. All of a sudden, the bills were really haywire,” Rachel Dowling said. “We’ve had to deal with them on multiple occasions.”
Transitioning from house to house in the more than three moves the couple has made over the years also brings the traditional headache of having to devote time on the phone — sometimes hours — calling FATHOM agents, to set up water. In Cove, new residents aren’t able to set up water by visiting any municipal office — they must call FATHOM, a company based in Phoenix.
FATHOM serves customers in Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas.
“We’ve taken turns passing off calling FATHOM. This last time was my turn,” Rachel Dowling said, who just purchased a new home with her husband in June.
Placing faith in correspondents hundreds of miles away in another state for something as vital as personal water supply makes the Dowlings uneasy. Rachel Dowling said they would much rather be able to visit a local office and speak with somebody face-to-face.
At the very least, they would be more secure with where they send their money.
“I wish they were gone,” Rachel Dowling said. “When I first learned they were in Arizona, I had to ask myself, ‘Where’s my money going?’ Really, it’s that idea of where my money is, but also the past increase in rates.”
Cove resident John Rose lives off of Summers Road. His only income to support a household of three people is his disability check.
His home’s water bill has roller-coastered more than once. Especially during the winter months, a three-person water bill has been as high as $175 for the month, according to Rose. That’s from three people showering, cooking, doing laundry and using a dishwasher every two days.
“This is unheard of in any place I’ve lived in this country, and I’ve lived lots of places in lots of different states,” Rose said. This is one that is extremely unsettling to myself.”
It didn’t take him long to realize he wasn’t the only resident with similar complaints. Rose often visits a Facebook group comprised of Copperas Cove residents bemoaning FATHOM. On social media, he has seen fellow FATHOM customers post proof of bills paid on time, who then claim the supplier has mistakingly cut their supply.
“A lot of these people have children. A lot of these people have babies on formula,” Rose said. “How will they feed their children? How will they clean their children when they have no water that’s being cut off by FATHOM when bills are paid on or before the due dates.”
Rose claims FATHOM correspondents have threatened him with potential cut-off before. It’s a dilemma made worse by the trouble he has speaking with representatives over the phone, despite using a hearing aid.
“To be threatened by this corporation continually is unlawful,” Rose said. “In fact, I categorize it as harassment when I continuously ask them to change their tone because of my disability.”
The Cove City Council has made no requests to consider future involvement with FATHOM, according to Keller. According to the contract, the agreement expires in 2031.
Council could potentially adjust the city’s agreement with FATHOM, Keller said. In terms of finding a new water management group, the process is unclear.
“The city has no specific comments on termination of the agreement, other than to confirm direction would be required to come from City Council,” Keller said.