- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DETROIT (AP) - A plan to address water shutoffs in Detroit likely will stress conservation, convenience and assistance to those having difficulty paying, according to discussions by a committee that took up the issue.

The committee studying water affordability met on Tuesday ahead of finalizing a report due in January to City Council. Debt-forgiveness for those behind on their bills, however, isn’t expected to be included in the plan, The Detroit News reported (https://detne.ws/1TOLHZb ).

After bad publicity and protests over shutoffs, Detroit last year announced payment plans and other ways for poor residents to maintain service. But there was no sweeping moratorium on shutoffs.

“No matter what rate design we implement, someone is going to get hurt,” said Marcus Hudson, chief financial officer for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

During Detroit’s bankruptcy last year, Judge Steven Rhodes said there was no right to water. He said he also didn’t have the power to keep taps open. Rhodes’ decision was upheld in September.

In the past 12 months, the newspaper said, some 23,000 accounts were turned off and nearly a third of the city’s 200,000 customers now are at least 60 days past due. The average monthly bill in Detroit is about $76 and rates are expected to increase 8 to 10 percent per year.

Activists have called for an amnesty for those who are behind on their bills, stressing widespread poverty in Detroit and billing problems that preceded some shutoffs. Some participants in the committee argue that the amnesty idea is impractical and unfair.

Detroit will hire several collections agents who double as social workers and can direct the needy to work training programs, said Gary Brown, director of the water department.

Other elements of the plan include partnering with DTE Energy on payment kiosks that would allow cash payments for water bills, Brown said.

Relief efforts also would be expanded from the current $1 million for residents who live below federal poverty levels. In January, another about $4.5 million will become available in a program by the Great Lakes Water Authority, a newly created regional water system.


Information from: The Detroit News, https://detnews.com/

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