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Vote on Detroit water rates next week; hikes seen as "inevitable"

Detroit’s regional board of water commissioners will vote on new rates next week.

The board will vote on a proposal that would increase Detroit retail customers’ combined water and sewer rates by 12.8%, while suburban wholesale customers would see rates jump a combined 6.4%.

The Detroit water department shut off more than 27,000 customers for at least some period of time last year, in an effort to collect delinquent revenues.

Melissa Damaschke, Great Lakes program director with the Sierra Club, says the rate hikes do seem “inevitable” — and that poor households need the option of income-based payment plans.

“When rates are going to be increased for Detroit residents, it’s unacceptable not to have a water affordability program,” Damaschke says.

But Mayor Mike Duggan and other officials say the water department now offers payment plans and other forms of assistance to help city residents avoid water shutoffs.

Damaschke says sewer rate hikes in particular will hit Detroiters hard, and the water department should offer green infrastructure incentives to households. “It warrants DWSD providing a program so they have an opportunity to reduce that sewer side of their bill,” she says.

The rate vote also comes at a time when the Detroit water department is trying to spin off its suburban operations to the new Great Lakes Water Authority.

Jim Taylor, director of public works for Van Buren Township, says that process is still ongoing.

“We are not at the end of the road with this transition,” says Taylor. “This is an extremely difficult path. It’s like we’re unraveling a bowl of spaghetti, trying to get the GLWA up and running.”

The Authority is supposed to officially launch July 1 — the same day new rates would go into effect if approved by all the necessary officials.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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