DETROIT (WWJ) – Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting more control over city operations — including the embattled water department.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr issued an order Tuesday giving the mayor authority to manage the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department along with the power to make appointments to the Board of Water Commission.
Orr said the change should allow the department to operate more efficiently while at the same time helping customers get and remain current on their water bills.
In a statement, Duggan said he welcomes responsibility.
“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,” Duggan said. “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.”
Duggan said he’s heard complaints for many Detroiters who are having trouble making payment arrangements, faced with long telephone wait times and long lines as 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,” said Duggan.
Water was cut off to about 7,200 homes and businesses in June. The shutoffs were suspended until Aug. 6 to allow the city time to educate customers on payment plans.
Talking to WWJ’s Sean Lee and other reporters, Duggan admitted that the change in enforcement was “probably a little more abrupt than it needed to be.”
He said said the plan they’re working on will allow those who truly need help to get help, while weeding out those who can pay and choose not to.
“We’re going to do our best to distinguish between those who genuinely are delinquent and can pay — and we are gonna treat them appropriately — but I’m really focused right now on improving support for those who want to make payment arrangements and those who are in need,” Duggan said.
Orr’s order came down just minutes before Tuesday’s city council meeting during which Detroit’s City Council president announced she’ll ask the mayor to extend the moratorium on water shutoffs in the city.
The suspensions are expected to last another week, but Brenda Jones says it should be in place longer.
Jones questioned whether the shutoffs are still being carried out despite the moratorium.
“As you saying that there were no shutoffs from last Monday to today?” she asked DWSD Deputy Director Darryl Latimer.
“No,” Latimer replied. “There were shutoffs for illegal accounts.”
Jones long waits at DWSD officials and on the phone are preventing people from squaring up their bills.
“I had someone literally go off on me, because they were at the Grand River location and the line was wrapped around four time, and they were number 22 on the outside,” Jones said. “It’s not acceptable.”
“You give someone a phone call saying come pay your bill; and when they go to pay their bill they can’t get there into the building to pay the bill because the lines are wrapped around.”
Detroit’s water woes drew national attention earlier this month when a loud crowd of as many as 2,000 people protested the shutoffs with a downtown march and rally.