Detroit official says water plan is working

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

DETROIT (AP) — Tens of thousands of Detroit residents with overdue water bills have signed up for a payment plan and kept their service since August, but hundreds are still being cut off each day, a city official testified Tuesday.

Mayor Mike Duggan's chief of staff, Alexis Wiley, said a strategy to keep water flowing to homes and chip away at old bills is "absolutely" working. Critics, however, are asking a judge to stop shutoffs for six months and order the city to restore water to people who have lost it since April.

People with overdue bills can put down 10 percent and get into a two-year payment plan. There's also a $2 million fund to further assist customers with very low incomes, Wiley said, going over the details of Duggan's 10-point plan.

Wiley said 30,000 customers have signed up for a payment plan.

On cross-examination, she acknowledged that 350 to 400 customers are losing water service daily.

"They were shutting off far more before that. We've reached a huge chunk of people," Wiley said.

She said she didn't know how many children were in homes without water, a point repeatedly emphasized by a coalition fighting the shutoffs.

Nearly 22,000 homes lost water from March through August, according to the water department, and 15,251 had service restored in that same period.

Customer service chief Darryl Latimer warned that people behind in their bills likely would not pay if Judge Steven Rhodes suspends shutoffs until next spring. He noted, for example, that the department collected $200,000 in overdue bills in August during a brief moratorium, compared to more than $900,000 in July — "a sharp decrease."

Rhodes, who also is overseeing Detroit's bankruptcy case, began hearing testimony Monday. A handful of residents who have lost water or are on the verge of losing it talked about bathing with bottled water and the humiliation of having a blue line painted on the sidewalk, a sign to utility crews to turn off service.

The water department's chief financial officer, Nicolette Bateson, said the agency would be adversely affected if the judge suspended shutoffs and allowed people to get water without paying for it.

"The department has very lean cash reserves," Bateson said.


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