Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan unveiled a plan Thursday that seeks a more humane way of handling delinquent water bills after the city’s emergency manager was widely criticized for shutting off water to at least 18,000 homes and apartments.
Duggan, who received control of the Water and Sewerage Department last month, also said he was extending the moratorium on shutoffs to Aug. 25. The goal, he said, is to give residents an opportunity to pay their bills with payment plans and better service. The mayor also is waiving fees associated with shutoffs.
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Duggan and DWSD Director Sue McCormick said many people with delinquent bills have an earnest desire to make good on their balance.
“It was clear by the turnout at our fair last weekend at our east side center that Detroiters want to stay on top of their bill. We just needed to give them a better process,” Mayor Duggan said. “Under this plan, anyone who wants to address their overdue balance will have every opportunity to do so.”
McCromick said the plan is aimed at helping struggling residents.
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“This plan provides great resources for those Detroiters who need some guidance and support in paying their bills,” she said. “As more Detroiters get current on their bills, that means there is less of a deficit for other Detroit residents to pick up in the form of added charges on their bill. It really benefits everyone.”
The city also will host a Water Fair at Cobo Center from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Aug. 23rd.
DWSD 10-point plan:
1. Waive Turn-On Fees and Late Payment Penalties
During the moratorium, which ends Aug. 25, DWSD will waive turn-on fees for customers whose water had been shut off, as well as all late payment penalties.
2. Cut red tape
To simplify getting into a payment plan, customers only need to present a valid state ID. Once a payment is made, service will be restored within 48 hours.
3. Extend hours at DWSD Customer Care Centers
DWSD has expanded hours at all of its Customer Care Centers, from 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Monday-Friday (previously 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) and 8:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. on weekends (previously 9 a.m.-noon) to make sure customer service agents are available at all times. The DWSD has also added staff to reduce wait times.
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4. Increase staffing at the DWSD Call Center and extend hours
DWSD has also expanded hours at its Call Center to 8:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. daily (previously 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) and 8:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. on weekends (weekend hours for the Call Center are new). Starting August 18, the Call Center will have 50 % more staff and new phone technology to better serve customers.
5. Cobo Water Fair Aug. 23
A Water Affordability Fair will be held at Cobo Center Saturday Aug. 23 to give customers one last opportunity to connect with all of the DWSD and community resources available to them before the moratorium ends Aug. 25.
6. Improve notification for customers in danger of shut-off
The DWSD is expanding its efforts to communicate with customers who are late on their payments or may be facing shut-off. Bills will more clearly explain their status and assistance information will be included with the bill. Workers also will hand-deliver notices to all homes in shut-off status one week before their scheduled shut-off to give them time to enter into a payment plan.
7. Implement an Affordable Payment Plan
Any resident with a delinquent account can enter into a 24-month “10/30/50” payment plan by coming to their local DWSD Customer Care Center, showing a valid state ID and paying down only 10 percent of their past-due balance. (The previous down payment requirement was 30% of the past-due balance.) If a customer misses a payment, they can reapply for the program by putting down 30% of their past-due balance. A second missed payment will require a 50% down payment of their past-due amount. Any customer who misses a third payment will no longer be eligible for the payment plan.
8. Provide financial assistance for low-income Detroit customers
Starting Aug. 11, DWSD Customer Care Centers will begin processing applications for the Detroit Water Fund. By paying down only 10% of their past-due balance, eligible city residents will receive up to 25% assistance with their bill from the new Detroit Water Fund. DWSD has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, which will prequalify residents
To be eligible for Detroit Water Fund assistance, customers must be Detroit residents who:
· Have an outstanding balance between $300 and $1000; AND
· Maintain Average Water Usage for their household size; AND
· Are either enrolled in DTE’s Low Income Self-Sufficiency Plan (LSP); OR,
· Have income at or below 150% of the federal poverty level (for example, a family of 4 must have an annual income below $35,775). This funding is available on a first come first served basis and is subject to availability.
9. Build Neighborhood Partnerships
DWSD customers are not alone. We’ve established a support network to assist individuals who may not qualify for some of the DWSD assistance programs. Our partners include United Way 211, THAW, WAVE and Wayne Metro.
10. Provide a clear way to give.
Many people have offered to help Detroiters who are struggling to pay their water bills. There are several ways to donate to the Detroit Water Fund: online, by text message, by check or by phone. Details are available at www.DetroitWaterFund.org.
Where to reach customer assistance:
All DWSD Customer Care Centers are now open from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM and all centers have new Saturday hours from 8AM to 3PM. Locations are:
· Downtown Center, 735 Randolph
· Eastside Center, 13303 E. McNichols (West of Gratiot)
· Westside Center, 15600 Grand River (West of Greenfield)
The DWSD Customer Care Call Center is now open from 8:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. weekdays and also has added the same Saturday hours as the walk-in centers of 8:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. The Call Center number is (313) 267-8000.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.