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Historical Context of Detroit’s “New” Fee Structure for Water Drainage Bills

Boy bending over sewage drain, Salem, Massachusetts

Source: Marcie Jan Bronstein / Getty

A drainage fee started in 1975, which was based on assessments from water meters.  The “new” drainage fee is not based on a water meter, but on properties and buildings.  Thus, the “new” drainage fee is assessed on vacant lots, parking lots, roofs of buildings, etc.  The “new” fee is based on acreage.  This “new” drainage fee affects all properties in the city of Detroit, ONLY.  It is a way of collecting money from all properties. The Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) is phasing the fees in with properties, which had NO drainage fee, first – new parcels.  Churches are now getting notices and bills on lots that they purchased.  The phasing in of the “new” drainage fees will start with:

  • Non-metered parcels – October 2016 (assessments sent to churches)
  • Industrial – January 2017
  • Commercial – April 2017
  • Tax Exempt – June 2017
  • Residential – October 2017
  • Religious –January 2018 (church buildings, parking lots, and grounds). It must be noted that on lots and property that have never paid a fee, they can go back six years and bill!

The change in the drainage fee is a result of the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy, which we are still experiencing.   The Detroit Water and Sewage Department was owned and controlled by the city of Detroit.  We still own the entity, but we do not solely control the department, anymore.  Detroit is still responsible for the bond debts on the water infrastructure.  After the bankruptcy, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department reorganized into the Great Lakes Water Authority.   No longer can we charge those beyond Detroit to help pay debt on the bonds.  This is important because the majority of the bond debts are for infrastructure, beyond Detroit.  Now, we have to pay the debt and improve the city of Detroit’s system on our own.  The “new” drainage fee assessed on Detroiters is the plan to give DWSD the needed funding to pay the bond debts, and repair the infrastructure – at the cost of $151 million, annually.

The reality is we, the city of Detroit, are still under the control of a Financial Oversight Board, which is controlled by Governor Snyder.  Therefore, the “new” drainage fee, which is a hidden tax, has to be approved by the Financial Oversight Board.   The mayor, city council and DWSD are under the control of this board.

Here is the letter to Mayor Duggan from concerned pastors.

The Water Equity Coalition

February 23, 2017

Honorable Mayor Mike Duggan
City of Detroit
Coleman A Young Municipal
Bldg 2 Woodward Ave, Suite 1126
Detroit MI 48226

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

We the undersigned clergy, representing our many diverse congregations in the practice of our faith, are knit in a network of mutuality with you, your administration and our regional government. We respectfully seek your leadership in a matter of grave community concern—the water equity issue— as it exists within the City of Detroit. Specifically, we are profoundly concerned with the inequitable manner in which the outdated and unhealthy combined sewer system within the City of Detroit serves to impoverish our fellow citizens with unique and punitive charges. In truth, the issue of water equity shows that Detroit’s poor are treated as a distinct class within the region’s water and sewer rate structure.

Under the current application of the Detroit Water Sewer District (DWSD)/Great Lakes Water Authority Agreement, ever-increasing harm to all our fellow citizens is manifest with the prospect of church and institutional closure, abandonment, shutoffs and health threats. The Agreement itself has latitude for vigorous negotiation to right this inequity in favor of regional solutions.

There may be state laws and even court precedents that inhibit the ability to achieve equity. Yet our moral commitment to achieving this equity remains undeterred. We seek alliance with any organization, school, house of worship, and place of business in our community to join us in a respectful and persevering call for fairness. We ask that you stand with us in a position of leadership as a champion of equity.

We respectfully request the strength of your voice and the power of your office to do the following:

1. Create a fully transparent process that keeps the community informed of your efforts on its behalf and that maintains the highest level of trust within the community. Included in this process is a moratorium on unmetered drainage charges imposed on residential and church property owners while this process is resolved equitably.

2. Negotiate as assertively as possible for the inclusion of the combined sewer overflow costs to be placed, like other costs of the designed system, within the “Common to All” charges under the Great Lakes Water Authority Agreement, in order to incorporate the cost of green initiative activities within the regional common to all charge and in other ways use the Agreement to establish more equitable practices.

3. Advocate at the state level for legislative and administrative relief from the punitive impact of the antiquated and underfunded Detroit Water and Sewer District on the concentrated poor within our City. We recognize that many of the problems being discussed are the result of severe austerity measures imposed at the state level and powerful local advocacy is required to respond to this failed policy.

4. Capitalize a groundbreaking green infrastructure initiative that combines many progressive aspects of your revitalization efforts in a community-wide green initiative that reduces storm water flows into the DWSD correcting the inequity presented by the antiquated system.

For our part, we pledge to promote community understanding and support for each of these activities as you accept the role of champion for water equity. We believe you are with us in our belief in the responsibility of government to serve the wellbeing of all people and to outline a path of sustainable social and environmental stewardship. To that end we would like to meet with you in 30 days to press forward in these four strategic action areas. We encourage your acceptance of this invitation to join us and provide your voice and path toward these resolutions.

Respectfully submitted,

Bishop P.A. Brooks, Church of God In Christ

Rev. Dr. DeeDee Coleman, President, Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, Inc.

Rev. Dr. Lawrence Glass, Jr., Past President, Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, Inc.

Rev. Dr. Tellis Chapman, Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, Inc.

Rev Dr. James Michael Curenton, United Church of Christ Rev.

Dr. Charles Boayue Jr., United Methodist Church

Bishop Wendell Gibbs, Episcopal Church

Bishop Donald Kriess, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

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