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Flint cutting costs to restore water service

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

The city of Flint is trying something new to reduce water shut-offs, while at the same time increasing revenues from water and sewer services.

The city is launching a 60-day trial of lower fees for residents trying to get their water service turned back on.

Under the plan, the first time a customer tries to get their water service reconnected, they’ll have to pay their current bill, 10% of their outstanding balance, and any reconnect fees. After the second time, customers will have to pay 25% of their past-due bill.   Previously, the city required a former customer to pay 50% of their outstanding balance to get their water service turned back on.

Flint’s Chief Financial Officer Hughey Newsome says the hope is getting more people to pay past-due water bills will boost city revenues.

“Going back to my days in business school we called that the Walmart strategy, where you have lower prices/higher volume,” says Newsome.

Newsome says this affects about 1,100 Flint water customers who had their water service cut off since January of 2017.

The 60-day trial is a result of Flint’s city council and mayor reaching a deal.

The council has been pushing for lower fees and costs on city water. The mayor has been concerned about raising enough money to maintain the system.

The two sides reached a deal this month. 

“We got the mayor on the phone and we were able to get a policy that not only was fiscally responsible but helped residents throughout the city,” says City Councilman Santino Guerra.

At a news conference outlining the 60-day trial, Mayor Karen Weaver expressed hope the test will work.

“We heard the cries of the community,” Weaver told reporters. “We share those same concerns.”

The cost of water shut-offs is not the only water service problem facing Flint’s city leaders.

There are also the ongoing issues with lead contamination in the drinking water that put Flint in the national spotlight.

In addition, Flint’s recently updated city charter now requires city leaders to have “just and reasonable rates for municipal utility services.” Flint’s water and sewer rates rank among the highest in the county.   Also, the charter now requires Flint city leaders come up with a payment assistance program for residential customers in need.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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