By Jan Worth-Nelson
Flint residents whose water has been shut off can get service restored by paying part of their balance due during the next 60 days, thanks to a “trial policy” approved by the Flint City Council this week.
Terms for the reconnections are as follows:
— If the shutoff is the first, the consumer would pay the current bill plus 10 percent of the outstanding balance plus the reconnect fees.
— If shut off for the second time, the consumer would pay the current bill plus 25 percent of the outstanding balance and the reconnect fees.
The trial policy, adopted by a council resolution in consultation with city administration this week, was announced at a press conference Tuesday at City Hall. In comments to reporters, Council President Herb Winfrey, Council members Eric Mays, Santino Guerra, and Eva Worthing, along with Mayor Karen Weaver and Chief Financial Officer Hughey Newsome, said the policy represents an negotiated attempt to help the public following recent resumption of water shutoffs by the city “while remaining fiscally responsible.”
Newsome said the city estimates about 1,100 customers will fall into the eligible categories for assistance. City officials had halted water shut offs over the holidays and during extremely cold winter weather spells. But the shutoffs resumed this month, with the official announcement from public relations officer Kristin Moore stating the resumption was “an effort to ensure the City of Flint remains financially solvent and fulfills its legal obligations.”
“The City is obligated by law to bill for services provided by its utility services department to maintain operation of both our water and sewer systems,” Newsome stated in the press release.
Council president Herb Winfrey credited Councilman Eric Mays with getting the process started, calling him the “Paul Revere” of the resolution.
Mays said, “We see people having a hard time after they got shut off — they had had to pay 50 percent of their standing bill, and they couldn’t come up with it.”
Mays recognized Councilwoman Eva Worthing, chair of the council’s legislative committee, and Santino Guerra, for working out the compromise with city administration and getting the resolution through the committee.
Worthing said she had been alerted about the shutoffs from water activist Melissa Mays, who said according to national numbers, water affordability amounts to two to two and a half percent of median household income. But “Flint’s rates are double and triple that percentage — it’s hard enough for citizens to pay for one month at this time,” she said. Worthing said Eric Mays alerted her to one of her constituents, a senior citizen who had no water and had medical issues. Worthing said he delivered water to the constituent and helped locate funding to turn her water back on.
“Our work as a council is far from over,” Worthing said, “According to the new charter, Council is to fix just and reasonable rates for municipal utility services.”
She noted that according to the charter, within two years, the council is to pass an ordinance creating a payment assistance program for residential water and sewer customers in need.
She also called on the state legislature to move ahead with a proposed bill HB 4393, titled the Water Shutoff Protection Act, to protect citizens in need. “We implore legislators to take it out of committee so it can be considered,” she said.
“We are still going to be working hard on water shutoffs and an affordability plan for Flint, and we cannot do that without the state’s help,” she said.
Newsome, the city’s chief financial officer, stated in a the Tuesday press release, “It is important to note that the bills customers receive are not just for water services, they include fees for sewer services as well. The city’s sewer system was not affected by the water crisis. Now that the City is back with the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), the City is billed for the water we receive. Therefore, the City must be able to recover costs from the water and sewer services being provided.
“We are doing everything we can to work with customers,” Newsome further stated. “We are also working diligently to implement a variety of programs to help residents manage their water/sewer bills. Residents who have seen large account balance corrections due to old/faulty water meters may soon see relief thanks to a recently passed resolution to release state funding. Additionally, we are working to have the funding through the GLWA Water Resident Assistance Program (WRAP), designed to provide financial assistance to customers, ramped up and in place in the next month or so.”
“We know this has been frustrating for residents, it’s been frustrating for me,” Mayor Weaver said. “But I want residents to know that we are working to get resources and relief in place for residents to take advantage of. We also continue to explore options to help ensure that safe and affordable water is provided long term to the people of Flint.”
Information on payment options for utility customers with financial hardships is available through the Customer Service Center at Flint City Hall or by calling (810) 766-7015.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.