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Detroit City Council rejects water rate hikes; what happens next?

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The Detroit City Council voted down a proposed jump in water rates Tuesday — and that means city officials have to figure out what to do now.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says it needs the roughly $27 million that 7.5% rate hike would have provided.

DWSD officials say that budget is already locked in — in fact, the Council approved it as part of the city’s larger budget earlier this year.

They say they department’s revenues are down because people are using less water, but they need to maintain a system of largely fixed costs.

But by a 6-2 vote, the Council rejected the proposal, with many members concerned that too many Detroiters already can’t pay their water bill.

Some advocates applauded the move, saying Detroit needs an income-based affordability plan if it wants to avoid continued mass water shutoffs.

The Council could vote on the issue again, says Bill Nowling, a spokesman for the Great Lakes Water Authority. Or DWSD could cut its budget, most likely through staff reductions.

The GLWA will take over operation of Detroit’s water system outside city limits next year. DWSD still serves Detroit residents, but as a wholesale customer of the GLWA. Detroit still technically owns the whole system.

Nowling says Council members, DWSD officials and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration are now meeting to try and figure out what route to take. “It’s a ‘to be continued’ story,” he says.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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