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Water bill collections in Flint dropping amid water crisis

Jan 26, 2016

Flint officials say the city’s water utility could run out of money by the year’s end as more and more Flint citizens skip paying bills amid the crisis with lead-tainted water.

Flint Water March
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

City Administrator Natasha Henderson told city council members at a meeting Monday that the public health emergency is driving down collections on water bills. She says it's an "imminent concern" and it is leaving the city in a "very precarious situation."

The Flint Journal reports Henderson says conservative estimates indicate the water fund will be out of cash by December.

The water crisis in Flint began back in April of 2014 when the city changed its water source from Lake Huron water purchased from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. The switch was made while the city was being run by a state-appointed emergency manager.

The emergency arose after it was revealed that state regulators did not require the city to treat its water for corrosion, causing lead from plumbing and pipes to leach into the water supply.

In a statement earlier this month, Attorney General Bill Schuette brought attention to the water bills in Flint. He said he did not believe Flint citizens should have to pay them.

Listen to his answer in a press conference earlier this year:

And in a tweet from earlier this month, Schuette took to Twitter to voice his opinions regarding  the Flint water bills, stating:

The city of Flint announced in November of this year that it would send out 1,800 water shutoff notices.

However, according to Henderson’s statement to city council members on Monday, the city hasn’t disconnected service for nonpayment since August 7, 2015 when Genesee Circuit Judge Archie Hayman issued an emergency injunction that pulled back the city’s rate increases and effectively ended water shutoffs in Flint.

In a post to the City of Flint’s website, the mayor's press person, Kristin Moore, clarified the city's current position:

No shut off notices have been issued since the beginning of December 2015.

There has been no disconnection of service for nonpayment on an active account has since August 7, 2015.

The City is currently reviewing its policy on shut off notices in light of the declared emergency and amended preliminary injunction order issued on January 11, 2016.

A crowd of over 60 people gathered in a protest in front of city hall on Monday before the meeting. And according to the Flint Journal, the protest concluded with “residents tearing up and burning their water bills.”

Fewer people paying their water bills could result in a lack of capital improvements to the city’s water and sewer systems. This is primarily how the city funds improvements to its water infrastructure.

Henderson’s statement to city council members reiterated the negative impact on the city’s finances and has a “tremendous impact on the city’s ability to be financially sustainable.”

Henderson also said, according to the Flint Journal, that she and other city leaders have met with Governor Snyder’s office about the city’s diminishing water funds.

The Governor is hoping the Legislature will step in to help.

The Snyder administration has requested a supplemental appropriation that would provide $28 million in state and federal funds to aid Flint in the current fiscal year.

Most of the funding is expected to pay for the most immediate needs of the Flint residents, like increased National Guard efforts, bottled water, water filters, blood testing, and an increased number of nurses in schools. 

Five million of the bill's $28 million in funding, according to the Flint Journal, would work to aid the city in the "loss of revenue from unpaid water bills and new water system infrastructure."  

The bill, which was passed by the state House on January 20, is currently awaiting approval by the state Senate. 

- Amelia Zak, the Michigan Radio Newsroom