Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
July 25, 2015
Detroit City Council missed an opportunity to provide leadership in creating an equitable, sustainable water system. Reversing their earlier vote to reject the rate hike proposed by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, the Council narrowly agreed to a 7.5 % rate hike. Over the last decade, the DWSD has raised rates more than 120%. In a city where half of all customers are now behind in their water bills, such an approach to financing is unsustainable.
The rate hike and its implications were never seriously discussed. The last Council session, approving the rate increase, was tightly controlled, limiting public comments. It seems that the corporate elite and the people they have put into office are afraid of any real discussion about the possibility of new ways of thinking about the question of water and the principles we should use to provide and protect it. Certainly the Governor, Mayor and DWSD personnel are doing everything they can to silence public discussion. That is why it is so important for us to create new opportunities for conversations.
This latest effort to bully the City Council into silence comes on the heels of the Great Lakes Water Authority’s refusal to even allow a discussion of water affordability in its meetings. Advocates were forced to resign when they were told a water affordability plan could not be included as part of the report framing the new Authority.
This past week the legitimate questions of City Council were buried under a barrage of threats. If the Council did not immediately approve the rate increases, we were told the city was on the brink of financial ruin. Emergency Managers would return to “discipline” an out of control council.
The mainstream media characterized the questioning of the rate increase by some members of the Council as “grandstanding” and claimed it was cast as a “false choice between raising the revenue needed to keep the system running and whether some Detroiters can afford” an increase.
In reality the question of affordability is at the heart of the discussion. Every time there is a rate increase, fewer people are able to pay into the system. Thus those who pay have to pay more. Constantly raising rates on fewer and fewer people will not sustain this system.
Here are some hard numbers from the July 22 Finance Committee of the DWSD meeting:
Over the last twelve months, 35,595 accounts were turned off. Only 17,900 were turned on. In June, 5,988 accounts were turned off and 2,016 were turned on. This means in the last two months more than 20,000 households are without water.
We are faced with a water system that is embedded in out of date and unsustainable financing mechanisms. We are faced with a Governor and a Mayor who are afraid to discuss these limitations of this system or any alternatives to it.
Instead they continue to say water advocates are clamoring for “free water.” That is nonsense. We are demanding a true affordability plan like the one being implemented in Philadelphia. If Philadelphia can do it, so can Detroit.
The People’s Water Board, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, and We the People are hosting a public meeting with representatives of the Philadelphia City Council, Detroit City Council and Roger Colton, widely regarded as a national expert on affordable, sustainable water policy. The public discussion will be held from noon to 4 pm, following a 10am press conference. The press conference will be held at 2727 Second Avenue in Detroit. The public meeting, including members of the State Legislature, will be held at St Matthew-St Joseph Church 8850 Woodward Avenue.
It is time to demand new thinking about how we will look after one another and the water necessary for all life.