Beginning next month, the city of Flint plans to again disconnect water customers who aren’t paying their bills.
The first shutoff notices are going out this week.
This summer, Judge Archie Hayman judge ordered Flint to stop shutting off water service to delinquent customers. The judge found Flint illegally raised rates by 35% in 2011. As part of his ruling, the judge ordered the city to roll back the water rates and stop disconnecting people who had run up unpaid bills under the old rate structure.
But the judge’s order only covered unpaid bills before September. Now those new bills, with the lower rates, are becoming past due.
“At the point where the bills were actually due, our customers will have had over two and half months past their due date to pay,” says Jody Lundquist, the city of Flint’s Chief Financial Officer.
Lundquist says 60% of Flint water customers are behind on their water bills. She says Flint’s water revenues are down $4 million since September compared to the same time last year.
Many people in Flint stopped paying their bills to protest the city’s problem-plagued water system. Others are still having trouble paying the high cost of water in Flint, which for many is still over $100 a month.
Some Flint resident also question why they should pay for water when the state and a local foundation are paying $10 million to reconnect Flint to Detroit water.
City officials point out that water bills include the cost of maintaining the system, which is a bigger part of their bill than the water.
“There is a cost to provide that and it’s important that the city’s able to do that,” says Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft.
City officials are organizing staff to make sure there are city workers to handle both the shutoffs, and the reconnections when customers pay their overdue bills.
On a positive note, city officials say that the water flowing through Flint’s system is now entirely from Detroit. Last month, Flint switched back to Detroit water after an 18-month experiment getting its drinking water from its namesake river. The Flint River proved to be difficult for city staffers to properly treat, leading to problems with taste, smell and appearance. The corrosiveness of the river also damaged pipes, creating an issue with rising lead levels in the water.
Thousands of water filters have been distributed to city residents to filter out the lead. But there are concerns the lead problem will persist for a long time. More filter giveaways are planned.