SAGINAW, MI – It’s getting closer to the date where Saginaw plans to reinstate utility shutoffs as it contends with a large sum of delinquent water bills from residents.
City Manager Tim Morales had previously informed the city council during a public meeting on Monday, May 24 meeting that Saginaw currently has a water utility delinquency balance of approximately $1 million. Since the state order prohibiting water shutoffs expired in March, Morales announced during the meeting that the city as the will be resuming shutoffs for water utility customers on June 15.
“Our delinquent balance is manageable at this point, especially as we resume shutoffs but we need to be aware of the outstanding amount so that it does not trigger a future rate increase or cash flow issues,” said Lori Brown, Saginaw Finance Director.
Brown said that approximately 750 accounts are delinquent 60 days or more and are in potential shut off states. According to Brown, the average delinquent account at this time owes an average of $540. In total, Saginaw currently has 18,112 customers throughout the city, said Brown and all occupied properties are required to have water per City ordinance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, mandates were in place that required municipalities like Saginaw to provide water to all occupied properties regardless of payment status, said Brown, and there shouldn’t be any occupied properties without water service at this time because of these two factors.
Looking back at the numbers over the 2020 pandemic, Brown stated that the July delinquency amount was $1.3 million and that the delinquency amount rose in December to around $1.6 million. Assistance stemming from funding from Senate Bill 690 was applied to the December amount, said Brown, ultimately reducing the amount. Brown said that $590,536 of assistance was applied to 2,286 accounts in total, bringing the delinquent balance down to around $1 million. The delinquent balance has been hovered around that amount since then, Brown said.
As the June 15 deadline approaches, those who don’t seek out a payment plan or make payments will ultimately be shut off, said Brown.
Brown attributed the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor leading to the current situation regarding delinquent bills.
“An assumption would be that general hardships due to COVID are the major contributing factor,” said Brown. “There are funds available for assistance and we are trying to get the word out for individuals to contact 211 or DHHS to see if they qualify. Many accounts that received SB 690 assistance in December have not made any payments since. They may need to seek assistance or a payment plan.”
Saginaw Mayor Brenda Moore previously told MLive that she attributed confusion among residents regarding the state-issued moratorium as a possible reason for the current situation.
“I think people got it confused, when it says you can’t cut off water, you can’t cut off Consumers (Energy), you can’t evict people – see, it does not say stop paying. It was to make it easy on people, maybe you couldn’t afford to pay the whole rent but pay on it. So I think that some people may have gotten so far behind,” Moore previously said.
The city is encouraging people to make arrangements with their delinquent bills as soon as possible so that they aren’t staring down the barrel of a water shutoff.
“Please make arrangements, we’re willing to work with people,” Moore previously said. “Turning people’s water off is not what we want to do. We don’t want to do that but at the same time, the longer it stays on the higher the bill gets.”
Residents in need can seek out financial assistance by contacting one of the following:
• Call the 211 helpline to connect with community resources. Saginaw County is served by the Northeast Michigan branch of 211. Those looking for help in the area can either call or text 211, chat online, or search 211′s community resource directory. Hearing-impaired callers call MI-RELAY at 1-800- 649-3777
• DHHS for state emergency relief at 989-758-1100
• City utility customers may contact Water Billing customer service at 989-759-1450 to make payment arrangements during business hours of 8 a.m.- 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Click here for a list of other possible avenues for help that are available to Saginaw residents struggling with their utility bills.
“We understand these are difficult times and are willing to work with those that contact us,” Brown said.
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