Also published in the Hamtramck Review
One thing that unites all Hamtramck residents is our distress over our water bills. Bills seem to get higher and higher every year, even as we confront challenges to the quality of our water. This year, Hamtramck has simultaneously shifted toward automated water meter while reducing our ability to lower our bills by saving water. Long-standing issues are being aggravated by the threat of lead contamination and the risk of water shutoffs for those who can’t afford to meet the growing costs.
Have you ever taken the time to truly understand your water bill? You might be surprised that the biggest part of the bill is the not the water usage itself, but the sewerage charge. Next there is the water charge and, lastly, a mysterious sanitation fee, which is actually a garbage pick-up fee which some claim to be a “double tax,” since it is already covered by property taxes. Hamtramck has an ordinance which prohibits residents from challenging their water bills, so the only true choice you have is to pay or not pay, to have water or not.
In my own home, I analyzed the historical usage and costs. I found that the measured water usage in my home was the same in 2006, 2010 and 2016. The usage was the same but the cost went up from 230 in 2006, to $341 in 2010, to a whopping $676 in 2016! The increase may have been somewhat obscured by the transition from quarterly to monthly billing in 2014, but the total annual cost increased even as the individual bills went down.
Remember, that the changes implemented this July are not even reflected in these numbers, Under the new system, the fixed monthly charges on each water account have doubled from about $20 to about $40 before a single drop of water is used. The water that you use is an additional charge from there. This means that even if your water is shut off, you can expect to be billed $40 each month on top of your existing balance. And, don’t forget, if you can’t afford to pay on time, you can expect late fees, shutoff fees, and reconnection fees.
Fortunately, I have the ability to pay my water bills, but the strain of providing access to water is real for Hamtramck residents. Hamtramck’s water shut-off procedures are extremely aggressive- hundreds of residents receive water shutoff notices each month for debts as low as $5 (which is probably less than the cost of issuing the notice!). There are some water resources, such as the WRAP program, which can assist low-income households to pay off delinquent water bills. But WRAP does not apply for people whose water is already shut off, has limited funds, and is not widely known in the Hamtramck community, especially across language barriers. **
Every year, council has the chance to approve a new rate structure for water. 2019 will provide another opportunity to push back against a rate structure that neither rewards nor incentivizes Hamtramckans from conserving water, and, instead, and provides real pathways for affordable water. In Michigan, we are so fortunate to have access to abundant clean water resources, but we cannot take the availability of this resource for granted.
For the past few months, I have been waiting for a call back from the City of Hamtramck to alert me when it will be my turn to have a new automatic water meter installed. As of this week, I have joined another queue- the line of residents waiting to have our water tested for lead. Local government is a balancing act of limited resources and seemingly endless demands. and the challenge is great, but the stakes for clean and affordable water are high enough that we must work together to prioritize an infrastructure that both delivers water and serves its people.
If you have a problem with your water bill and need help paying it, contact WRAP at 313-386-9727. If you want to report a shutoff or water bill issue