Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell
Mayor’s Water Failures
August 30, 2015
Mayor Duggan’s water assistance plan has collapsed. With this he has lost his claim to be able to a “better job” than Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Under the Mayor’s leadership shut offs have accelerated, corporate clients continue to evade penalties, and he has refused discussion of an income based affordability plan. Now there is no more money available to help people facing shut offs. More than 6000 people are without water and as thousands more face shut offs.
Advocates for affordable water have been saying all along that the Mayor does not have a viable, reasonable plan to ensure water for people who are unable to pay ever-increasing water bills. Since the beginning of spring, when the Mayor announced an accelerated shut off policy and asked for more money to pay Homrich, the company hired to turn people off; community advocates have warned that his approach is unsustainable.
In fact, the contract to shut people off is almost twice the amount of “assistance money” the Mayor is making available to people. Further, he has yet to talk about those who received one-time assistance and then again fall behind in bills.
After more than a year of having the water system under his control, the Mayor has proven a failure in doing any of the new thinking necessary to avert a continued human rights calamity.
Rather than approaching the question of water affordability in an open way, the Mayor has blocked discussion of an income-based plan. He has put extraordinary effort into stopping such conversation. His attitude has forced affordability advocates to resign from the advisory group to the Great Lakes Water Authority because he would not permit discussion, or allow the group to include a minority report.
Now as his charitable efforts have dried up, the Mayor has nothing to offer those who are facing shut offs.
His lack of a serious plan is even more difficult to understand when people have been advocating a simple solution. A Water Affordability Plan based on income would keep the water flowing and provide money for the system to maintain itself. This has been the experience of a number of cities and this experience has been widely shared with the Mayor and the community.
So why is the Mayor resisting this effort for a Water Affordability Plan? Two reasons seem clear. First, the people he called together to advise him on how to approach the question of shut offs have a vested interest in providing charity, not an affordability plan. Both the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency and the United Way, for example, voted against allowing Affordability to be included in the report to the newly emerging water authority. This is because they are interested in lucrative contracts to administer assistance.
Second, according to internationally recognized water expert Roger Colton, the Mayor is stuck with old ideas. Colton says, “It’s not really a legal argument. It’s an ideological argument, and the ideological argument is, ‘We have our standard way of setting rates, and it’s the way we’ve always done it, and to do it differently would be against the law.’ … Rather than bemoaning the state law, they should start building the argument on why this fits within their traditional regulatory authority, and I think it does.”
An income based plan is the only sustainable long-term solution. In the short term the Mayor should stop all shut offs, and turn the water back on for those living without it. Anything less is a foolish evasion.