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From the wires

Detroit unveils plan to help with controversial water shutoffs

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announces 10-point plan to address water shutoffs and overdue bills

Detroit’s mayor unveiled a 10-point plan Thursday that aims to allow the city to collect on overdue water bills while making it easier for customers to make payments, enter into payment arrangements and access financial assistance after months of controversial water shutoffs in the city.

Mayor Mike Duggan and Sue McCormick, director of the water and sewage department, also announced that the city's moratorium announced on July 21 involving residential water shutoffs would be extended through Aug. 25. The moratorium was originally for 15 days.

“This plan provides great resources for those Detroiters who need some guidance and support in paying their bills,” McCormick said in a statement Thursday. “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.”

Detroit's emergency manager turned over control of the Water and Sewerage Department to the mayor's office in July amid scrutiny over the city's policy of cracking down on water customers with overdue bills.

The city began aggressively disconnecting water in late March for city residents who had not paid their bills and were falling farther behind. Since then, nearly 18,000 customers have been cut off as Detroit scrambles to repay its massive debt, according to the Water and Sewerage Department.

About $87 million is still owed in delinquent bills, and there are nearly 86,000 accounts still overdue, according to July reports from water officials.

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.

The plan includes the waiving of fees and late payment penalties through the end of the moratorium, a payment plan structure that requires only a valid ID to participate and increased staffing at customer service and call centers. It also establishes a new assistance fund to help low-income families, called the Detroit Water Fund.

“Under this plan, anyone who wants to address their overdue balance will have every opportunity to do so,” Duggan said in a statement Thursday.

From April through July, the Water and Sewerage Department collected $2.6 million under the campaign, it reported. In comparison, the department said it collected only $503,000 from delinquent accounts in the same four-month period last year.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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