Detroit emergency manager grants mayor authority to manage water department


DETROIT – Detroit's emergency manager on Tuesday issued a new order that grants Mayor Mike Duggan the authority to manage the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Kevyn Orr says Duggan can make appointments to the Board of Water Commission.

[Web extra] Read full Order No. 31 - Detroit mayor granted DWSD authority

"This order provides additional clarity to the powers already delegated to the mayor," Orr said. "As the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department works to operate more efficiently and communicate more effectively with customers, it is important to ensure there are clear lines of management and accountability. This order ensures a common focus on customer service and sound management practices that reflects the City's commitment to refocusing its efforts to help DWSD customers get and remain current on their water bills."

Statement from Mayor Mike Duggan

I welcome the emergency manager's order this morning giving me the responsibility for dealing with the Water Department issues. 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. There are funds available to support those who cannot afford their bills - we need to do a much better job in community outreach to tell our residents how to access those funds.

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.  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.

Last night, I met with DWSD leadership and we'll be developing plans together to fix these problems.

But it is important to remember that in the water system, each city is its own separate legal fund.  When some Detroit residents don't pay their bills, those bills have to be paid by other Detroiters. There is no outside funding from the suburbs, from the state, or from the feds. These unpaid water bills are Detroit's alone.

So all bills that remain uncollected this year must be paid for by higher rates on all Detroiters next year.

We will be developing a plan that allows those who are truly needy to access financial help and allows those who want to make payment arrangements to do so with shorter wait times. 

As for those who can pay and choose not to, we won't force other Detroiters to pay their bills.       

Water department under fire for shutoffs

Earlier this year, the DWSD said it would be more assertive toward delinquent customers. About 46,000 shut-off notices were mailed out in May and service to thousands of customers was cut over the past few weeks.

Of the customers shut off, "more than half of those came into the office and paid the accounts in full" within a day or two, department spokeswoman Curtrise Garner said. About 17,000 customers currently are on payment plans.

[Web extra] Timeline of water shutoffs

About 90,000 active customers in Detroit are delinquent on their bills to the tune of about $90 million, she added.

Detroit's water department, which is responsible for about $6 billion of the city's $18 billion in debt, is one of the major issues in the bankruptcy. But unlike some debt that is not supported by revenue streams, water department debt is covered by bill-paying customers.