Flint, MI– The city has announced that it will be shutting off water for residential habitual non-payers, as well as those who don’t make an appointment to get their outdated meter changed. 

But during a council meeting on Jan. 10, many members of the Flint City Council said they believed the timing of this initiative is “really wrong,” in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the area. 

Mayor Sheldon Neeley first said the city would be pursuing collections of delinquent accounts from habitual non-payers during a special city council meeting on Dec. 21. Habitual non-payers are people with six months or more delinquent accounts, and a delinquent account is one that is at least 30 days past the due date. 

The city will be requesting that these residents pay at least the current bill, as well as 10% of the past due balance. Shutoff notices will be sent to those who don’t respond, but the “timeline from notice to shutoff has not been determined,” according to the city’s Director of Communications Melissa Brown. 

In addition to going after non-payers, the city is focused on getting residents to update their water meters. 

There are approximately 4,000 residences with outdated water meters that don’t properly monitor or read water usage, Brown said. Upgrading water meters is “mandatory for proper billing and monitoring to avoid any final shut-off notice.” 

On Jan. 10, City Treasurer Amanda Trujillo explained to the council that residents with outdated meters will be receiving notices asking them to make an appointment to get the meter replaced. She said the process of replacing the meters takes about 15 to 20 minutes.

If within two weeks, the resident does not schedule an appointment, their water will be shut off, and the resident will have to pay a reconnection fee to get their water turned back on.

“I just want to emphasize that the goal is not to turn people off.  We want to change their meter. That is the goal,” Trujillo said.

The city’s Director of the Department of Public Works Mike Brown added that the city has been asking the remaining residents with outdated meters to make an appointment to replace them for more than two years with no response. 

Council President Eric Mays said he was one of them, and was opposed to the reconnection fee.

“I would rather see a policy or an ordinance or a law that says, if you get a letter and get shut off, the minute they schedule that appointment, they get shut back on for free,” Mays said. 

Councilman Quincy Murphy requested a list of all of the people in his ward who have not gotten their meter changed. 

“If I’ve got to go door to door, I want to make sure that my residents in my ward is aware of the repercussions if they don’t get these meters switched up,” he said.

Murphy said that he thought this was “bad timing,” as many residents are wary of letting people into their space because of the pandemic. 

“I’m concerned about the employees even going into people’s homes that may have it and then they being exposed to that,” Murphy said. “So I just think this is bad timing now and I know that you guys are trying to get this completed, but COVID hit and it affected us in all kinds of areas.”

Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter had similar thoughts.

“I don’t think it’s fair that if a resident does not want someone to come into their home to change a meter, I don’t think it’s fair that their water will be turned off because of this meter thing,” she said.

Trujillo said that the workers who come into replace the meters will be wearing masks, but Councilwoman Ladel Lewis asked if safety could be taken up a notch, with contractors wearing gloves, “proper foot gear,” and the KN95 masks. 

“So that’d be a great way to allow the residents to feel more comfortable … it’ll give them the peace of mind that their city is doing everything and all things necessary to keep them safe, as they take out your meter so you don’t get your water turned off,” Lewis said.

Winfrey-Carter asked if there was anything that could be done regarding the timing of the shut offs.

“I mean this is worse than when this virus, when this pandemic, initially started. The numbers are higher, much higher,” she said. 

Trujillo said she understood “that COVID is rampant right now,” but said “we still need to move the city forward.”

Winfrey-Carter said she would still like the council to discuss possible ways they can “safeguard” residents who don’t want to let people come into their homes to change the meter. 

Residents need to make an appointment to have their old meter replaced, and those with questions about this, or their water account, can call the customer service department at (810) 766-7015.

For assistance with water bills, Councilwoman Allie Herkenroder suggested residents call Catholic Charities at (810) 600-4525.

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...

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