An update on the water bill crisis in Detroit

With the temperatures warming up, more crews are coming out to shut off water to Detroit businesses whose owners are not paying their bills, the city says.

"Everyone has to pay their water bill. It's a responsibility, because if you don't pay your water bill, your neighbor is paying it for you - and that's not fair," says Chief of Staff Alexis Wiley.

City officials say there are more than 8,000 commercial accounts and illegal hookups across the city right now. They owe the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department about $33 million.

"We're trying to change our practices, so that you're actually getting on top of this on the front end. You don't let an account go years and years and years without any kind of action," says Wiley.

The city's new Regional Water Authority is set to go into effect July 1. City officials admit collecting debt and enforcing turnoffs can be especially tough with illegal hookups.

"You typically have to do a dig up; it's a lengthier process. But, at the end of the day, the issue with those accounts is that that's theft," says Wiley.

While the city says they're ramping up enforcement on delinquent commercial accounts and illegal hookups within the coming weeks, they say residential customers will not be immediately targeted.

Wiley adds, "Eventually there will be shutoffs, but we just want to make sure that we're creating enough ways for people to be successful in payment plans."

The city says approximately 25,000 residential customers were enrolled in payment plans since August 1, which is about a seven thousand increase. Mayor Mike Duggan also began implementing his ten-point plan, increasing notifications and working with organizations like United Way and THAW. 

"We know we have a plan that's sustainable, that's strong, but we have to find ways to get even more people into that plan and make sure that our assistance program is encouraging people to stay in the plan," says Wiley.

But while business owners or accounts don't have the option to get assistance, the city says owners can still enroll in a payment plan. Even those with illegal hookups can also enroll and get their water turned on after paying a penalty fee.

"We have programs to help. We want everyone to keep their water on; we want to have everyone keep their water on," says Wiley.

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