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Flint city council might ask officials to stop charging people for water

Feb 8, 2016

Two young protesters at City Hall last week. The council floated a draft resolution to ask the city to stop charging people for water.
Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

But here’s the thing: the city council doesn’t really have the power to actually force the city to stop billing people for their water.

That’s because big financial decisions (and this one would be a doozy) still have to be okayed by a state-appointed board, called the Receivership Transition Advisory Board.

They’re the guys the state put in place after the Emergency Manager left in April 2015.

Technically, that’s when Flint “transitioned back to local control,” according to the state, but there’s still a lot of limitations on what local officials can actually do.

RTAB’s members have the power to review all “major financial and policy decisions … to ensure that they maintain fiscal and organizational stability.”

Last week, members of Flint’s city council floated a draft resolution that would “ask the City of Flint administration to discontinue billing customers for water” because they feel “it is unfair and unjust to bill customers for water they can’t drink.”

The draft resolution floated by city council members last week.
Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

The council sent the draft resolution to the city’s legal department, and they may talk about it tonight at their next meeting.

But as you can tell from the “ask the … administration” line, this is not a decision the city council has the power to make on its own.

And financially it would hurt the city if it suddenly stopped charging people for water.

For one thing, people would probably think it means they could stop paying their sewer bills as well, and the city desperately needs cash right now to keep its sewerage system up and running.  

Secondly, the city administrator, Natasha Henderson, says the city’s water fund is on track to run out of money in July.

That’s a big deal.

According to Henderson, if the city has to start tapping into the general fund to pay for water operations, that could trigger state receivership all over again -- meaning another emergency manager in Flint.

On top of that, a lot of people in Flint are already behind on their water bills.

Flint’s CFO, Jody Lundquist, says there is $15 million in water bills that are 30 days past due – and it’s closer to $18 million if you count sewer bills too. 

So while the city council may be responding to the huge amounts of anger and frustration, they can't do anything about it directly at this point in time.