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Flint water rates falling – by court order

Sep 1, 2015

Starting tomorrow, Flint water and sewer customers can expect to see a drop in their bills, though maybe not by as much as they expected.

Flint City Administrator Natasha Henderson explains the new rate structure for city water and sewer bills as Mayor Dayne Walling listens.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Last month, a judge issued an injunction ordering the city to stop collecting a 35% rate hike put in place in 2011. The judge found the rate hike was improper.

To comply with a judge’s order, the city of Flint is cutting its average water customer’s bill by about $20 a month. The city is reducing water and sewer rates, but not service charges. The reduction is also about 22% on current rates to be in line with the size of the 2011 increase.

Many Flint residents have complained for years that their water and sewer rates were far too high. Roughly a third of current Flint residents are delinquent in paying their water bills. 

But with cuts in rates, city officials warn there will be cuts in services as well. 

“Folks that are celebrating may come to find that the effect it has on our system isn’t a positive one,” says Flint City Attorney Peter Bade.

People have already apparently started following the judge's order.  

City Administrator Natasha Henderson says collections on water and sewer bills last month were down $500,000. By complying with the judge's order, the city expects to see revenues decline by $7 million dollars annually.  

City attorneys are asking the Court of Appeals to stay the order forcing the lower rates. The court is expected to rule soon. But if the court decides in the city’s favor, the lower water rates will remain in effect for the remainder of the month. 

The temporary injunction has also blocked the city from disconnecting delinquent water customers. But disconnections may resume if customers fall behind on their new water bills. Current city policy labels an account delinquent if the customer falls two months behind. That means disconnections could resume during the holiday season at the end of the year. 

The legal fight over Flint’s water and sewer rates took a major step in a different direction on Monday. 

Judge Archie Hayman certified a lawsuit against the city as a class action.  That could potentially expand a lawsuit seeking repayment of the improper 2011 rate increase from two people to more than 30,000 Flint residents and cost the city millions of dollars.  

City Attorney Peter Bade says the legal fight may go on for some time. 

City attorneys warn if Flint loses its water fight the city might be pushed closer to bankruptcy.