August 26, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Detroit launches pay by phone option for water bills

There was a long line outside the Water Department service center on Grand River Ave. in Detroit on Monday. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

Detroit — On the day city officials lifted a moratorium on water shutoffs, city officials launched a new phone payment option for bills or payment arrangements.

Tuesday marks the first day city officials resumed shutoffs for businesses or residents who owed more than $150 or were at least two months behind on payments after a hiatus of nearly a month. Mayor Mike Duggan placed the hold on the shutoffs as he began developing a 10-point plan to improve customer service and provide assistance.

Long lines and extra crews were available Monday at water service centers throughout Detroit as hundreds of people sought to settle overdue bills before the deadline expired.

A mobile application allows residents to avoid the lines to pay by phone. The Detroit Delivers mobile app, which links to the Water Department payment website, accepts major credit cards. Transactions are conducted with a DWSD customer care staff person instead of an automated system, officials said.

Water officials have come under fire for an aggressive campaign of shutting off water for residents and businesses. Officials have said more than $86 million is owed in delinquent bills, including more than $42 million from 74,000 residential accounts.

Water officials say they're owed more than $26 million from about 10,700 overdue commercial and industrial accounts. Officials admitted they were lax in the past in going after those not paying their bills and were looking to catch up.

Critics who include Democratic Detroit Congressman John Conyers called the shut-offs “Draconian.”

But the campaign has netted millions more dollars in collections for the utility compared with prior years. The department collected $503,000 from delinquent accounts in April through July in 2013. For the same four-month period this year, the amount spiked to $2.6 million. The department was on pace to collect more than $1 million in July alone before the moratorium on the shut-offs was announced July 21.

Customers may enroll in a 24-month 10/30/50 payment plan. Under the plan, they can make an arrangement to pay 10 percent of their past due balance. If a payment is missed, people can make another arrangement by putting down 30 percent of what is owed, and if a second payment is missed, 50 percent is due. Anyone who misses a third payment is no longer eligible

Duggan’s 10-poiint water plan includes setting up the Detroit Water Fund to help residents struggling to pay their water bills. Last week, three corporate sponsors gave a total of $200,000. The United Way pledged $100,000, while Ford Motor Co. Fund and the General Motors Foundation each gave $50,000.

To qualify for help with bills, residents must have an outstanding balance between $300 to $1,000; maintain average water usage for their household size; and must be either enrolled in DTE’s Low Income Self-Sufficiency Plan or have an income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, the threshold is $33,775.

Customers can pay by phone by calling (313) 267-8000 or may also make payments online at www.dwsd.org.

dnichols@detroitnews.com
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