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Flint seeks more state aid for water bills

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Fint — Mayor Karen Weaver said Thursday she is working with the Snyder administration on a subsidy plan that would encourage residents to use more water so the system can be flushed of contaminants and coated with anti-corrosion chemicals.

Virginia Tech researchers said Tuesday the lead contamination levels in the city’s water have improved in the past six months. But an estimated 55 percent to 80 percent reduction in water use by residents means fewer chemicals — orthophosphates and chlorine — are moving through pipelines and plumbing fixtures to combat lead contamination and bacteria growth, Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards said.

“At this time we’re working with state officials to develop a timeline, and a plan for doing this ... at no expense to Flint residents,” Weaver said at a weekly press conference.

The state has sent $30 million to reimburse residents for use of lead-contaminated water that occurred after the city switched to corrosive Flint River water in April 2014 that leached lead into the water supply. Although residents soon will get state water bill relief from the city so they don’t pay for drinking water use, it doesn’t cover water use for sewage lines.

“We are requesting additional funding,” Weaver said.

Edwards advocated subsidizing more of the water bills so residents have an incentive to use water and prevent the build-up of particulates.

Gov. Rick Snyder spokesman Ari Adler has said a flushing aid program is under consideration. Aides are doing cost estimates that would “increase participation by Flint residents while minimizing their cost.”

Weaver said she expects more information about citywide flushing to be made available by next week.

“We don’t have that level of detailed information yet,” she said, but indicated she backs Edwards’ idea.

“Residents should not have to pay for that,” Weaver said. “I’m a resident, too, and we should not have to incur that expense, so we don’t want to roll that program out until we have all of those things lined up.”

Until the plan is developed the mayor’s office is asking residents to pay the sewer portion of their water bills.

“We ask residents to at least pay the balance for the sewer portion of their utility bill because we continue to incur those costs,” Weaver said.

When the $30 million in water bill adjustments are made, Chief Financial Officer Jody Lundquist said, they will “reflect a lump sum credit” covering the April 2014-April 2016 period. The statements will show a previous balance and “then how the credit is being applied.”

The first meeting for public comment on the water credits is scheduled for 3-4 p.m. April 21 at the City Hall Dome.

Weaver says the city needs the credit program to be extended “until the water is considered safe.”

Edwards’ projections are that the city’s water quality won’t meet federal lead standards for at least another six months.

Flint’s Water Fund is projected to stay solvent at least through December, Lundquist said, though she added the Water and Sewer Fund had a deficit of $13 million at the end of February. The $30 million in state aid is helping the city.

Lundquist said Flint is “looking for state and federal support to sustain the system through the end of the calendar year.”

“We’re not about to say the city is going to go broke,” Lundquist said. “We are doing everything we can to prevent that from happening. We’re working with the state and other stakeholders to identify sources of funding.”

The city went through state oversight in the 2000s and a run of state-appointed emergency managers from 2011-2014 because it ran up deficits and debt. The emergency managers have been blamed for switching the city from the Detroit water system to the Flint River.

Jacob Carah is a freelance writer.