The Flint City Council voted this week in favor of placing a one-year moratorium on tax liens from the unpaid bills. But the measure still needs approval from the advisory board.
Eight thousand Flint homeowners were warned that they could be hit with a tax lien if they are more than six months behind on their water bills. Homeowners who fail to pay the tax lien may face foreclosure.
The city of Flint has been at the center of controversy after news broke that the state and city contaminated the water with lead, a neurotoxin.
A study was published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016, which found that the number of children with high levels of lead in their blood since the city switched water sources. The elevated levels of lead has also been linked to 12 deadly cases of Legionnaires' disease.
The water situation was deemed an emergency in 2016, but the city's water has only started to meet the federal government's standards.
The city switched back to the more expensive Detroit water system, and emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley were hit with felony charges..
"We have to have revenue coming in, so we can’t ... give people water at the tap and not get revenue coming in to pay those bills," said a spokesman for Flint's Treasury Department.
Foreclosures due to unpaid utility bills can and do happen, the National Consumer Law Center says. Delinquent water customers in the city will now be threatened with tax liens and will have until February 2018 to pay any outstanding charges on their accounts before they are marked for collection.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement that the city's request for payments on delinquent sewage and water bills are in accordance with the local laws. But Weaver is understanding of residents' concerns.
"I understand the concerns that have been raised, and I am working to see if any changes or something can be done to help those affected by this, especially given the extraordinary circumstances we have endured due to the water crisis," said Weaver.
Last year, Flint residents received a discount on their water bills, which are among the highest in the country. The discount expired this year.
Weaver pointed out that there are programs available, including United Way's $100,000 grant, that provides funds to low-income residents.
"Flint families should not have to pay for water that they still cannot drink, and they certainly should not lose their homes over this ongoing water crisis that was caused by the callous decisions of state government," said Representative Dan Kildee in a statement opposing the decision to suspend the city's water credits.
The U.S. Congress has already passed legislation giving the city $100 million to replace its lead pipes. The city says it may take until 2020 to replace all of the contaminated pipes.
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