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Detroit mayor takes control of water agency amid shutoff controversy

Detroit mayor takes control of city's water department amid water shutoff controversy

Detroit's emergency manager turned over control of the city's water and sewage department to the mayor's office Tuesday amid scrutiny over the city's policy of cracking down on water customers with overdue bills.

The city began aggressively disconnecting water for city residents who had not paid their bills and were falling farther behind. Thousands of customers were cut off as Detroit scrambled to repay its massive debt. In June, customers owed $90 million to the utility, and nearly half the city's roughly 300,000 accounts were past due.

"We need to change a number of things in the way we have approached the delinquent payment issues and I expect us to have a new plan shortly," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement Tuesday.

The water shutoff campaign drew widespread criticism, including from the United Nations, whose officials said in June that Detroit was violating international human rights standards by cutting off access to water for people already living in poverty.

Detroit's policy is to give shutoff notices to those who are 60 days delinquent on their bills and owe more than $150. But last week the Water and Sewerage Department announced a 15-day pause in such shutoffs while it reassesses its policy.

"I've heard complaints from many Detroiters who are trying to make payment arrangements, but who have faced long waits on the telephone or long lines at the DWSD offices," Duggan said. "We've got to do a much better job of supporting those who are trying to do the right thing in making those payment arrangements."

In April, the city set a target of cutting service to 3,000 customers a week who were more than $150 behind on their bills. In May, the water department sent out 46,000 warnings and cut off service to 4,531, according to a department statement.

In June, there were more than 7,200 shutoffs and the department collected $800,000, according to the Associated Press.

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