A judge’s ruling today may bring relief to Flint water customers. It may also push the city closer to bankruptcy.
Circuit Court Judge Archie Hayman’s rulings affect thousands of Flint water customers.
The judge enjoined the city from collecting a 35% water rate hike imposed in 2011, as well as other fees. Hayman also is blocking the city from enforcing liens on thousands of homeowners with delinquent accounts. His order also says the city must stop shutting off water to delinquent customers.
Judge Hayman also says the city must pay back $15 million dollars transferred from the city’s water fund in 2007.
Attorney Valdemar Washington unsuccessfully fought back tears as he talked to reporters about what the judge’s orders mean to people in Flint who have struggled to pay their water bills.
“The thought of people being put out of their homes because of water….and its being cut off illegally…that’s emotional for me,” says Washington.
Attorneys for the city quickly left the courtroom without talking to reporters.
City Attorney Peter Bade later issued a statement:
“Today's ruling is striking in terms of both its deviation from Michigan law, as well as the immediate financial harm it will cause the City of Flint. This will have a devastating financial impact. The City will immediately seek a stay of this order and review by the Court of Appeals.”
In court, Deputy Chief Legal Officer Anthony Chubb raised the possibility of bankruptcy. Chubb suggested any ruling forcing the city to repay millions of dollars would have an “absolutely devastating” effect.
The judge acknowledged the city’s problem, but suggested a solution could also be found.
Judge Hayman ordered the city and the side that brought the suit to spend the next few months trying to reach an agreement on how the city should repay, refund or credit the money it owes. He gave the two sides until the end of October to reach a deal.
This is likely not the end of the process.
The court case itself may be far from over.
But attorney Valdemar Washington says the judge’s decision should send a strong message to other municipalities.
“You may own the resources, but the people have to be considered,” says Washington.