BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Frustrated customers of the Birmingham Water Works reached out to CBS 42 after they couldn’t get emails and phone calls returned from Water Works Board members.

They wanted to know why the utility was spending large sums of money to buy lake houses on Inland Lake when they often leave them empty or burn them down.

“It’s just the priorities, you know. Is your priority to waste money on stuff that doesn’t return anything to the rate payer? Or is your priority lowering bills, lowering debt, and taking care of the people that support the system?” asked Allen Stringfellow, a frustrated rate-payer.

The Water Works Board has a legal option to purchase homes on Inland Lake when they come up for a private sale based on a contractual agreement the board made with each homeowner in the late 1990s.

They declined our request for an interview, but said in a statement:

“Investing in property along Inland Lake gives the utility the ability to manage the possibility of any threats to the watershed.”

-Birmingham Water Works Board

We asked for examples of how the homes pose a threat to the lake, but they didn’t provide any.