$200K expected to fill Detroit water bill fund

Darren A. Nichols
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan is set to announce about $200,000 worth of donations Monday to the newly created Detroit Water Fund to help residents struggling to pay their water bills, a source familiar with the announcement said.

Ford Motor Co. Fund, the United Way and the General Motors Foundation are set to be the first major donors. They would contribute a total of $200,000, the source said.

The Detroit Water Fund, which is managed by the United Way, is one of the initiatives launched as a part of Duggan’s 10-point plan to improve customer service and provide assistance to avoid water shut-offs. The postponement on water shut-offs is set to expire Aug. 25.

At a Sunday community event, Duggan said he was expecting an announcement this week of at least two major donations to the water fund. But he declined to say how much the contributions would be or if he had a target amount of money he hoped to raise for the fund.

“We have a lot of people in this town who aren’t able afford our water,” Duggan said Sunday, “and we’re going to do everything we can to raise the funds for those who can’t afford it to keep the service on.”

City water officials have come under scrutiny for shutting off the utility for people who owe more than $150 or are at least two months behind on payments. Officials have said more than $89 million is owed in delinquent bills, including more than $43 million from 80,000 residential accounts.

Since March, the department has shut off water to more than 17,000 Detroiters. More than half have had their water service restored after paying their bill or making payment arrangements, officials have said.

But thousands protested the move. The United Nations, celebrities and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes also weighed in with criticism of the plan and called for more options to aid Detroit residents. The shut-offs have been labeled Draconian by some activist organizations.

Under the initiative, Duggan said it will be easier to enroll in a payment plan and make arrangements to pay bills.

Hours at customer service centers and the department’s call center will be extended, and employees will be added. Parking at customer service locations will be free. Customers already enrolled in DTE Energy programs for heat assistance will be automatically considered eligible for help with water bills, according to the Duggan administration.

Residents also will get better notice of impending water shut-offs, Duggan said. Bills will clearly explain the shut-off status and employees will put handbills on doorknobs a week before shutting off the water. The new process will give people more time to make a payment arrangement, he said.

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.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will hold a fair from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Cobo Center. This will be the last chance for residents to enter a payment plan before the city is scheduled to resume shut-offs for delinquent customers.


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Detroit News Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski contributed.