Water shutoffs will resume in Flint by spring, the city’s chief financial officer said Wednesday.
David Sabuda made the disclosure to the Free Press after a news conference at City Hall at which Mayor Karen Weaver expressed her disappointment and anger at Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision to terminate, at the end of this month, state payments that help Flint residents and businesses pay their water bills and help Flint pay for the treated Detroit drinking water it receives from the Great Lakes Water Authority.
Sabuda said there isn’t a direct link between the end of the state credits and the resumption of water shutoffs, except that the end of the credits makes it even more important for Flint to collect the water payments businesses and residents owe, while at the same time making it harder for many customers to make those payments.
"We are going to follow the law," said Sabuda, who noted that potential commercial shutoffs were already in the works before Snyder announced the end of the water credits, though none have happened yet. For residential customers, "we are now in the process of developing the shutoff list, and both the mayor and the councilors have been informed."
Flint water shutoffs were halted in 2016 amid a national furor over city residents paying one of the highest water rates in the nation for water that was not safe to drink. Lead contamination began in April 2014 when the city, under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager who was trying to cut costs, switched the city's drinking water source to the Flint River, from Lake Huron water formerly supplied by Detroit. The city switched back to Detroit water, with state assistance, in October 2015.
The state notified the city about the end of the payments Feb. 7. Snyder said after a Tuesday meeting with Weaver at his Lansing office, that the payments were ending because the level of lead in the city’s water no longer exceeds the federal limit, though residents are still encouraged to use faucet filters provided by the state.
Weaver, who expected the credits to continue at least until the end of March, said she's angry and disappointed about the decision, and that Flint received insufficient notice. Even if the water in the pipes is now OK, the fixtures inside Flint homes have been damaged by lead, so the danger persists, Weaver said. The state says financial help will be provided to replace those fixtures, along with the city's lead service lines, but that hasn't happened yet, she said.
Continuing the credits "would have showed some continued goodwill that we are working together to move Flint forward," Weaver said.
Still, "this is a small setback," she said. "We're not going to let this stop us from moving forward."
Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said city officials were notified in December and again in January that the credits would end the month after it was verified by federal, state and independent scientists that the water quality met federal standards. That happened in the June to December monitoring period, she said. She added that the tests are done on Flint tap water poured without filters.
Sabuda said one reason the end of the credits is particularly hard on Flint is because the city has two water bills of its own to pay since late last year. Even though it's expected to be many months before Flint starts receiving Lake Huron water from the new Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, the city is now paying about $440,000 a month to cover its KWA debt, on top of the $1.1 million a month it pays the Great Lakes Water Authority for Detroit water, he said.
Sabuda said the city will continue to work closely with residents and businesses to prevent shutoffs, providing for payment plans for those who can't pay their current balance, plus 10% of any prior outstanding balance, as required each month. There are opportunities for payment plans and appeals, and the city is also working with non-profit organizations that can help delinquent customers, he said. Also, no customer will lose water bill credits already issued to them, he said.
Snyder said he and the mayor also spoke Tuesday about replacing lead pipes and ways to bring jobs to the impoverished city. Sabuda, who also attended the meeting, said some aspects of the Tuesday meeting were positive.
Snyder’s office estimates the state will have spent $41 million partially reimbursing customer bills for a nearly three-year period. Another $17.8 million has been contributed toward Flint’s Great Lakes Water Authority payments.
“I explained that we had authorization really through the time period we had,” said Snyder, who has apologized for his administration’s role in causing and prolonging the emergency.
Also Wednesday, state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, wrote Snyder and asked him to reconsider his decision to end the water credits.
"For almost three years now, my community has endured a traumatic disruption of their daily lives, and unfortunately, they have not felt fully supported or heard by the state throughout this time," he said.
Flint activist Lisia Williams carried a sign to the news conference and called on Weaver to lower the city water rates.
"It's a disservice to the community; a lot more could have been done," Williams said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.