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Crack down or offer amnesty? Flint goes after water theft

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Flint Police say they're investigating more than 50 water theft cases across the city.

They say they've already arrested 7 people, including a City Water Department employee who is accused of illegally turning on water for residents.

Flint has some of the highest water rates in the county: an MLive analysis this summer showed that an average resident pays $140 dollars a month, while people in the neighboring town of Burton pay less than $58 a month.

And the city raised its rates again in July.

Jason Lorenz is with the city of Flint.

He says people who bypass meters or set up systems to divert their neighbor's water into their homes are just making those prices higher.

"I mean, everybody that uses them systems, share the costs,” he says. “So when these people don't pay for the water, they're contributing to everyone else's water bill. We, you know, as a resident, I'm paying for their water."

He says there is assistance available for people who can't pay their bills, through the city's Keep the Water Flowing program. 

The city’s payment plan requires a 50% down payment, according to Lorenz.

If a family cannot afford that, they can seek relief through DHS, he says.

But a member of the city council says a police crackdown isn’t the way to go.

In a statement released yesterday, Councilman Sheldon Neeley says he’s asking Flint’s Emergency Manager to give amnesty to anyone who turns themselves in for stealing water, and pays the city back immediately or through a payment plan within the next 60 days.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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