Detroit water board approves 1.7% rate hike

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s Board of Water Commissioners on Wednesday approved a combined 1.7 percent increase for water and sewer rates for the next fiscal year — the lowest hike in more than 20 years, officials said.

The rates will be effective July 1 and appear on customer bills beginning in August. A family of three with average water usage will pay $1.18 more per month. The average water usage for a family of three is 37,400 gallons, according to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

“Our primary objective coming into DWSD after the bifurcation with the (Great Lakes Water Authority) was to reduce the burden on our customers who have seen the water and sewer rates increase more than 400 percent in 20 years,” DWSD Director Gary Brown said in a released statement. “That level of increase is unacceptable. While it will be impossible to claw-back to lower rates, we have made organizational changes to decrease the need for large rate increases. Our goal the last two years was to have our rate increases be close to or below 3 percent.”

The board approved a 1 percent increase for the water rate for all customers, a 3 percent increase for sewage and a 1 percent increase in the drainage charge for customers who have not yet transitioned to a new rate structure based on impervious acreage. The drainage charge per impervious acre decreased to $661 from $750 per acre.

No members of the public spoke about the rate proposal prior to the vote during the board’s annual meeting, which also served as a public hearing on the rate schedule. The board said it will discuss the rate calculations at its public meeting in July.

DWSD said aggressive collections, new customer service and training practices and efforts to attach names to accounts, rather than parcel number, have helped increase the bill collection rate from 70 percent to 91 percent. Other factors that have contributed to the low rate increase are the department’s water assistance fund, new payment kiosks and other measures.

The water department initiated a controversial water shut-off campaign in 2014 for widespread unpaid commercial and residential water accounts amid the city’s financial crisis.

This year, the department began shutting off water service in April for some of nearly 18,000 residential accounts that had been delinquent. But those who contacted the department before their scheduled shut-offs to make a payment or enter into an assistance plan avoided it.

Brown last week said shut offs would be suspended when temperatures exceed 90 degrees and about 1,000 residential customers remained at risk over delinquent bills.

The department has also touted the Water Residential Assistance Program, a regional aid fund created in 2015 as part of the Great Lakes Water Authority forged during bankruptcy.

WRAP is designed to help customers in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties who are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level — $36,450 for a family of four — by covering one-third of the cost of their average monthly bill and freezing overdue amounts.

Close to 6,000 Detroit households are enrolled in the program and the retention rate is 90 percent, Brown has said. Water officials recently said it was boosting the number of eligible enrollees from 20 per day to 40.

The new water rates do not require Detroit’s City Council approval, water officials said.