The Detroit water department has delivered about 3,000 shutoff notices to households with delinquent bills since May 11, giving those customers 10 business days to make arrangements to pay their bill or have their service cut off. More notices will be delivered as the shutoffs are carried out this week.
Detroit’s number of delinquent accounts — those owing $150 or more in bills that are at least two months late — remains a significant problem. There are 64,769 delinquent residential accounts owing $48.9 million, according to the water department. As of last June, there were more than 79,000 delinquent accounts owing $42 million.
The department, under the leadership of Mayor Mike Duggan, is proceeding with shutoffs against the wishes of the City Council, which passed a resolution May 12 for a shutoff moratorium until the current financial assistance programs are evaluated and a subsidy plan is pursued to lower water bills for poor people before they fall behind.
The latest crackdown is raising fears of a growing public health crisis. Thousands already are living in southeast Michigan without running water, according to the Sierra Club.
Greg Eno, a spokesman for the water department, declined to comment on the water shutoffs.
The seemingly never-ending problem of Detroit’s unpaid water bills comes as city and county officials work to craft a new strategy to fight the problem under the Great Lakes Water Authority, a regional operation created during Detroit’s bankruptcy case. The regional authority is expected to have $4.5 million available to help water customers in the tri-county area pay their bills.
There are two fundamentally different ways to design the strategy.
The water department’s current model is known as an assistance-based plan, which provides discounts to qualified residents with overdue bills.
An alternative is an affordability-based plan, which would reduce bills for poor people while adding fees to other customers. Supporters argue this approach is more pro-active.
The City Council supported an affordability plan in 2006 that proposed to set rates at between 2% and 3% of residents’ income. The plan was never implemented.
The city’s law department said then that the plan was not possible — an opinion to which the department still clings.
Nevertheless, the City Council and other groups, including the Sierra Club and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, continue to encourage the city water department and those developing the new regional authority to pursue an affordability plan.
So far they have not been successful. In fact, the Sierra Club resigned last week from its position among stakeholders developing the regional water assistance plan once it became clear an affordability strategy was not on the table.
“It’s so unfortunate that in the crisis that the region faces with water shutoffs that the GLWA is not seeing this as an opportunity to address a major problem.” said Melissa Damaschke, Great Lakes program director for the Sierra Club. “This is a public health threat.”
John Lesko · Top CommenterThe “deeper problem” here is the entitlement mentality that has created a permanent underclass in Detroit. When you teach people that they don’t have to work and pay their bills, they’ll stop working and paying their bills. And then become outraged when others stop working for them free of charge.
Damidwesterner IndamidwestNo other city has this problem of people who don’t pay getting their water turned off and it’s a federal case. Even those cities that are down on their luck enforce non-payment and people pay up. Does anybody realize that 70% of the nonpayers in Detroit have up to date Cell Phone and Cable accounts? If they didn’t pay those, they’d be shut off. They get gas shut off if they don’t pay.
Because Detroit Water and Sewage hasn’t turned off the water until now, everybody thinks they can skate. Just like the 47% of the city residents who don’t pay their property taxes. Nothing happens in the end. So, why pay.
Well, the free ride is over. Get in line and cough up some cash and work out a payment plan. That’s what everybody else everywhere else does. Detroiters shouldn’t be any different.