DETROIT (WXYZ) - Bankruptcy Judge Steve Rhodes is taking up the issue over water shutoffs in Detroit.
In a surprise move Tuesday morning, Judge Rhodes said he wanted to know how Detroit city officials decide water department shutoffs.
At the end of a morning court hearing with individual objectors to bankruptcy, the judge told a city attorney he wanted more information in the afternoon hearing.
The afternoon hearing began with Judge Rhodes questioning the Deputy Director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Darryl Latimer, asking why so many customers are being shut off.
Judge Rhodes told the court that there is anger in the city and hardship and bad publicity for the city that it doesn't need right now because of the shutoffs. He says the publicity going “around the world.”
Detroit water shutoffs have made national news in the last couple of weeks.
During the Tuesday afternoon hearing, Judge Rhodes wanted to know what are some resources to help those who can't pay, as well as programs to defer or payment plans to pay over time.
Judge Rhodes says he has seen news reports that people are not getting help. He wants to know what more the city can do to make assistance programs available to customers.
During his questioning, Judge Rhodes asked if the city is accepting a down payment to keep the water on.
Latimer said the city requires 30% of the bill’s balance.
Referring to the news reports Judge Rhodes asked what about a lower amount. He said the news reports say the city won't take it.
Latimer told the judge that the news reports were wrong. He said the average household bill is $75 a month and that the average bill due when a shutoff notice goes out is $540, or 90-120 days.
Latimer says customers can have up to 36 months to pay and get caught up and that they bill a property not a person.
Judge Rhodes also asked why the bills have not been paid. Latimer told him it was a lack of enforcement by the city, up until the last year.
For now, the judge is not taking legal action. However, he urged Latimer to come up with initiatives to inform and encourage customers to use assistance programs. More information about these programs and services can be found online .
Judge Rhodes says the water issue is a "solvable problem" and the city needs to make a much more aggressive plan to help customers avoid shutoffs. They must also report back to him next Monday during the status conference.
The bottom line is the judge says this is "affecting this bankruptcy."
The city has also been in closed mediation with officials from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties about turning the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department into a regional authority.
Those talks have stalled over how much it will cost the suburbs. One of the 17 objectors told the judge this morning that he should issue a moratorium on the water shutoffs.
The judge said he did not know what jurisdiction he has over this issue. Each individual objector had five minutes to make their case to the judge.
More are set for this afternoon.
Votes have been cast on Detroit's Plan of Adjustment. Sources have said both retiree groups have approved pension cuts tied to the "grand bargain" that also saves the art collection from being sold.
The trial for Plan Confirmation is set for August 14.