June 17, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Detroit council approves 8.7% hike in water rates

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday approved an 8.7 percent hike in water and sewer rates for Detroit customers set by the city’s Water and Sewerage Department for the upcoming fiscal year.

The 6-2 approval will aid the ailing water system in covering capital costs, council members said. President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. and member Mary Sheffield voted no.

In its 2014-15 rates, the Water Department suggested an average hike of 4 percent for its suburban customers and an increase that is a little more than double that for Detroiters. The higher rate results, in part, from an increasing number of uncollected bills, the department says.

Councilman Scott Benson said the increase “has not been taken lightly,” but is essential to maintain a viable water department.

“You have to increase rates at times to make sure we can make proper improvements and provide quality service,” he said.

President Brenda Jones noted she has formerly voted against the increases, but agreed Tuesday that the “extremely old” system needs additional funding.

“In order to get the repairs necessary that have to be done to our system, it’s going to take a lot of money,” Jones added.

A typical Detroit resident pays $64 per month for water and sewer services. Under the proposed increase, they would pay $70.67, according to documents provided to the council from DWSD.

The rates will result in an increase of about $5.68 per month for a Detroit resident that buys 600 cubic feet of water, which is the average Detroit residential use.

The changes go into effect July 1.

The Detroit department’s retail water sales have declined 46 percent in the last decade and its collection rate in Detroit is at less than 80 percent.

In early March the department announced it was gearing up for an aggressive campaign to shut off service to about 1,500-3,000 delinquent accounts each week.

At that time, 154,229 of the 296,115 residential accounts were delinquent for a total of $91.7 million. Delinquent accounts for businesses, schools and commercial buildings totaled $175 million.

Sheffield said the department’s ongoing collections enforcement was among the reasons she voted no.

“I don’t feel residents should have to bear the burden of an increase right now,” Sheffield said, adding she wants to see how that effort “plays out.”

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