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 From left, Eastpointe City Councilwoman Sarah Lucido, Eastpointe Mayor Pro Tem Michael Klinefelt and Eastpointe Financial Director Randall Blum look over the water shut-off policy during its May 15 meeting at City Hall. The council voted to table the matter until its June 5 meeting.

From left, Eastpointe City Councilwoman Sarah Lucido, Eastpointe Mayor Pro Tem Michael Klinefelt and Eastpointe Financial Director Randall Blum look over the water shut-off policy during its May 15 meeting at City Hall. The council voted to table the matter until its June 5 meeting.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Eastpointe council tables water shut-off policy until June 5 meeting

By: Bria Brown | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published May 22, 2018

EASTPOINTE — The Eastpointe City Council unanimously voted to table its vote on rescinding the city’s water shut-off policy during its May 15 meeting. 

According to the city’s policy, when a bill is not paid by the due date set by ordinance, collection procedures will be implemented to facilitate payment and/or collection. 

An overdue notice will be sent to a customer, giving them 30 days to pay their account and advising them that failure to pay will result in the water being shut off. At least half of the balance must be paid within the 30-day period to avoid shut-off, but once the 30 days have passed, this option will no longer be available. 

A city employee will be sent to shut off the water service if the account still hasn’t been paid after the 30-day notice, and a $125 shut-off charge will be added to the account. A notice will be left with the customer notifying them of the past-due amount and the $125 shut-off fee, which must be paid at City Hall, 23200 Gratiot Ave., between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

When the account is paid in full, including the $125 shut-off charge, the water service can be reactivated. Reactivations will have to be scheduled with the Department of Public Works between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.  

Financial Director Randall Blum wanted to recommend to the council to rescind the water shut-off policy. 

“In 2011, when we looked into implementing it, we looked into the cost of going through the whole process of getting to the point of shutting people off and workers going out and turning it back on. The cost at that time was $212,” said Blum. 

Blum said he recommended in 2011 that the cost be a $225 fee, but the council thought the price was too high and eventually made it $100, and it is now $125. 

“But effectively, every shut-off and turn-on we do, the city loses money,” he said. 

Blum also said there’s a lot of effort at City Hall and at the Department of Public Works and Services, with clerical staff tracking and sending notices out and taking phone calls.

In addition to the city losing money, Blum said that workers are taking verbal abuse from residents while they’re shutting the water off. 

Blum wanted the policy to “roll onto taxes twice a year” and to not shut off people’s water. 

“It will save a lot of time and heartache within the city for both residents and employees,” said Blum. 

Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley said she remembers that when the city had the policy set up, the city had about $2.8 million in unpaid water bills. 

Blum said the total is about $3 million delinquent now under the city’s current rate, compared to about $3 million delinquent in the past. The biggest issue with that, according to Blum, was that the city was only putting the amount on the taxes once a year. 

“It would build up and you’d have a 12-month delinquency being rolled on — it became a cash flow issue at that time. Putting it on taxes twice a year — both summer and winter — it kind of takes care of that cash flow problem,” he said.

Blum said that Eastpointe is the only city in southeast Michigan that rolls fees onto taxes and does water shut-offs.  

“All other communities do one or the other, but not both,” he said. 

Councilwoman Monique Owens’ concern was residents illegally turning water back on, and asked if that was the reason for the fee increasing from $100 to $125. 

“Once somebody turns the water (on), you have to send someone back out there to turn it off again,” she said. 

Blum said that there is a $250 penalty for residents illegally turning their water back on. The $250 fee has to be paid prior to a city employee coming to turn the water on. 

There are clerical efforts building up for employees to turn the water off. Employees have to track accounts every month, see who’s delinquent, and figure out the half payment — where residents have 30 days to pay — which involves days of effort, Blum said. 

Once the notice goes out, employees have to track accounts to see who’s made a half payment and who has not. The city then proceeds to add those who have not paid the half amount within the allotted time to a shut-off list. 

“We have about 500 notices out every month. We take the top 500 water accounts and delinquent amounts; they have 30 days to pay 50 percent of that amount,” said Blum. 

Blum said that the city is usually left with 80 to 100 accounts that have to be shut off after others have paid the 50 percent amount. Once residents miss the 30-day slot to pay half of the amount, they then have to pay the full amount. 

The city has to schedule with the Department of Public Works and Services to do the shut-offs, which, because of scheduling, can’t happen until the next day or the next available time slot, Blum said. 

When Eastpointe started the shut-off policy, the city was getting about $600,000 a year in penalties and interest on the water accounts. Now that the city has moved to the shut-off process, according to Blum, the penalties and interest are about $300,000. Blum said that the city makes some of the money up in the shut-off fees, but it doesn’t see an equal amount of revenue coming in while the city has the extra expense to do the work.  

After discussion, Councilman Cardi DeMonaco Jr. said he wanted “to think about” making a decision before he voted to rescind the policy. Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley agreed with DeMonaco by asking if the council would like to “table it and put it on the next City Council agenda.” 

The council decided unanimously not to make a decision at the time and to table the matter to its June 5 meeting.