Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said residential shut-offs will resume when the current moratorium on cutting services to residents ends on Aug. 25. / Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press
Detroit residents will have an easier time enrolling in payment plans for unpaid water bills and late payment penalties will be waived under a new plan Mayor Mike Duggan announced Thursday to address the city's sharply criticized water shut-off program.
While admitting the aggressive shut-off policy has not reflected well on Detroit, Duggan said his 10-point plan will better inform residents when their water service could be cut and make it easier for customers to make payments.
Duggan, who was given authority over the water department's operations last week, said residential shut-offs will resume when the current moratorium on cutting services to residents ends on Aug. 25.
Since March, the water department has cut service to about 17,000 accounts to encourage delinquent customers to pay their bills. Service was restored to about 60% of those accounts.
Paying customers in the city are seeing their rates go up because the water department has been unable to collect about $40 million in unpaid bills.
"I don't know how to filter water and pipe it from the river into somebody's house at no cost," Duggan said at a news conference Thursday. "There are a lot of Detroiters paying a water bill who can't afford to be paying other people's bills as well."
Duggan said his plan will support residents who truly need help and want to pay their water bill.
Under the plan:
â?¢ The water department will waive turn-on fees and late payment penalties for customers during the shut-off moratorium through Aug. 25.
â?¢ The department's customer service, which officials have described as unacceptable, will get a boost with 50% more staff at the call center starting Aug. 18.
â?¢ The city will hold a water affordability fair at Cobo Center on Aug. 23 to help delinquent customers before the shut-off moratorium ends.
The department will post a notice at delinquent customers' homes notifying them their service will be cut off in a week. The department did not give such specific information in the past, encouraging customers to wait and see if their service would actually be shut off, Duggan said.
Duggan, who was joined by more than two dozen supporters at the city hall news conference, made it clear the water department would have collected unpaid bills differently had he been given control of the department sooner. Emergency manager Kevyn Orr retained authority over the water department when Duggan took office in January. Orr transferred control of the department's operations last week.
"I believe had I been given charge of the water department when I asked for it, this never would've happened," Duggan said. "But I have to deal with reality as it is, and the emergency manager has now recognized that the authority needs to be turned over back to the elected officials and we're fixing it now."
City officials and community leaders at the news conference said Duggan's plan is a step in the right direction to repair the city's image after the water shut-offs sparked protests in recent weeks by activists who said Detroit's policy was a violation of the human right to water.
"We know that everything has not been done perfectly, but we are moving forward to try to service our customers to the best of the ability of Detroit," City Council President Brenda Jones said. "We don't want to have any black eyes in this city with issues with the water - but we do know that people have to pay their bills if they are able to pay their bills."
Detroit NAACP President Rev. Wendell Anthony said he supports the mayor's plan, although he would have preferred the shut-off moratorium to be extended.
"Today reflects a major step in the right direction between the city leadership and the community," Anthony said at the news conference.
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Read the original story: Detroit to make it easier to pay late water bills