Detroit: How the Left Made Water More Expensive Than Cell Phones

Arnold Ahlert is a former NY Post op-ed columnist currently contributing to JewishWorldReview.com, HumanEvents.com and CanadaFreePress.com. He may be reached at atahlert@comcast.net.


8734154122_8229fb3d2f_z-629x420The latest news from Detroit, the poster child for failed progressive policies that have dominated that city for more than a half-century, is not good. In March of 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it would begin cutting off water service for customers at least 60 days overdue or more than $150 behind in their water bill payments. Activists outraged by the decision have taken their case outside the city—all the way to the United Nations.

The DWSD has targeted 1,500 to 3,000 business and residential customers every week as part of a get-tough approach that would enable them to begin recouping the $118 million owed from delinquent accounts. Accounts that comprise nearly half the city’s total number. As a result, the Department has shut off water service to more than 7,500 properties in the past two months alone.

“We really don’t want to shut off anyone’s water, but it’s really our duty to go after those who don’t pay, because if they don’t pay then our other customers pay for them,” said DWSD spokeswoman Curtrise Garner. “That’s not fair to our other customers.” Garner also noted that the city has programs that help those “totally in need,” but that many of the customers who can afford to pay their bills don’t bother, “and we know this because, once we shut water off, the next day they are in paying the bill in full. So we do know that that has become a habit as well,” she contended.

It’s not the only habit of non-payment afflicting Detroit. In 2012, it was revealed that almost half of the city’s 305,000 property owners failed to pay their tax bills the previous year.

Yet the thousands of families who no longer have access to water, along with those who will shortly follow, has generated a backlash by a coalition of leftist organizations striving for “water justice,” including the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food & Water Watch. They have submitted a report to Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, calling on that organization to intervene. “What we see is a violation of the human right to water,” said Meera Karunananthan, an international campaigner with the Blue Planet Project. “The U.S. has international obligations in terms of people’s right to water, and this is a blatant violation of that right. We’re hoping the U.N. will put pressure on the federal government and the state of Michigan to do something about it.”

The groups have framed the argument in typically leftist terms, accusing the DWSD of attempting to rid itself of low-income customers in an effort to spur a private takeover of the utility. DWSD has denied the charge, but city officials are considering at least a partial takeover by private entities as one of a variety of strategies aimed at reducing the $18 billion of debt that has driven Detroit into bankruptcy. The DWSD accounts for $5 billion of that debt, and as of March, 150,806 out of the 323,900 DWSD accounts in the city were delinquent.

Detroit did attempt to integrate its water system with the water systems in the suburban counties of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne, hoping to create a jointly managed regional authority in return for a $47-million-per-year minimum lease payment. But the deal fell through when those counties wanted no part of the DWSD’s debt, its delinquent customers, or an aging infrastructure “with a history of disinvestment,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

Despite that disinvestment, Detroit has seen a steady rise in its water bills, including a staggering 119 percent increase over the last decade. The average water bill is now an outrageous $75 a month, compared to national average of $40. For perspective sake, the average cell phone bill is $71 per month.

Nonetheless, as recently as last week the Detroit City Council approved an 8.7 percent increase in DWSD rates expected to add an average of more than $5 per month to the current bills. Council President Brenda Jones cited infrastructure repair as the reason for the hike. “I do realize that in order to get the repairs done to our system, it’s going to take a lot of money to get those repairs because our system is very old,” Jones said.

The activists are apoplectic, claiming those affected were given no time to prepare for a shut off and that some accounts were suspended prior to the deadline. “Sick people are left without running water and running toilets,” writes Blue Planet Project Founder and Food & Water Watch Board Chair Maude Barlow.

People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook. Is this a small number of victims? No. The water department has decreed that it will turn the water off to all 120,000 residences that owe it money by the end of the summer although it has made no such threat to the many corporations and institutions that are in arrears on their bills as well. How did it come to this?

Unsurprisingly, Barlow blames “decades of market driven neoliberal policy that put business and profit ahead of public good.” A less delusional examination reveals the usual suspects: free-spending, progressive Democrats, allied with labor unions.

Beginning in 1962, Detroit elected an unbroken string of Democratic mayors and other city officials determined to impose a progressive agenda on a city that was once the richest, per capita, in the entire nation. Democrats oversaw the failed the “Model City” program, fashioned after Soviet Union centralized efforts to transform entire urban areas at once. They were in control when the riots of 1967 destroyed black businesses and drove more than 140,000 people from the city. They bestowed outlandish salaries, benefit packages, and highly inefficient work rules on city unions, a move largely responsible for driving the city’s mainstay auto industry to right-to-work states. And they were responsible for a series of corruption scandals, culminating in a 28-year prison term for former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

All of it led to the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the nation, in June of 2013.

And make no mistake: DWSD workers were an integral part of the problem. As recently as 2012, the DWSD employed a full-time horseshoer collecting $56,245 in salary and benefits — despite the inconvenient reality that the department had no horses. They also had 257 separate job classifications designed to maximize the number of workers required to do even the simplest of tasks — workers whose average compensation packages came to $86,000 in 2013.

2012 was also the year when an independent report concluded that the city could slash the staffing levels at DWSD by 81 percent, due to the reality that it was using twice the number of employees per gallon as cities like Chicago. In response, John Riehl, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 207 that represents many of the DWSD employees, told the Detroit Free Press the department needed more workers.

When the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners approved the cutbacks, 950 DWSD workers went on strike in October 2012, defying a restraining order issued by a federal judge in the process. The strike lasted five days, and Riehl declared it a victory “because it has set the precedent that unions, the community and the City of Detroit can stand up against the whole array of powers-that-be and win.”

In light of Detroit’s eventual bankruptcy, it was a temporary and Pyrrhic victory.

Today, Detroit is a city with an unemployment rate of more than 14 percent, and a poverty rate of about 40 percent, courtesy of the very same Democratic social engineering that has driven water to unaffordable levels for many of the city’s poorest residents. Even more telling, given that Detroit’s population is 82.7 percent black, this crisis disproportionately afflicts the very same minorities Democrats claim to be protecting and nurturing.

“The case of water cut-offs in the City of Detroit speaks to the deep racial divides and intractable economic and social inequality in access to services within the United States,” claim the activists taking their case to the United Nations. No, it doesn’t. It speaks to 52 years of progressive Democratic policies that have destroyed the city formerly known as the “arsenal of democracy.” The very same policies these leftist groups would exacerbate in their quixotic quest for UN-sponsored “water justice.”

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  • trapper

    The stupidity of Leftists always amazes me. Just when I think they can’t get any more moronic, they descend even lower on the iQ scale. Of course, it is Leftist beliefs that create a stupid Leftist and the longer they are Leftists, the stupider they become.

    • Americana

      This is a story rewritten by Daniel Greenfield from another newspaper source. This is a typical practice of journalism which delegates the overall background reporting of a story to the original reporter. However, as a journalism practice, it allows for subsequent rewritings by other journalists to overlook SIGNIFICANT FACTS in the original story because subsequent stories aren’t subjected to the rigors of the fact-checking done by the first journalist’s newspaper.

      In this case, Daniel failed to include the fact that the job classification of “horseshoer” also indicated that this job classification encompasses that of a WELDER. This second part of the “horseshoer’s” job is generally considered a necessity in dealing w/vast tracts of piping. Anyone who knows anything about horseshoeing would understand that a horseshoer is someone who’s got a multi-faceted skill set for metal work of all kinds.
      __________________________________________________________________

      This is the story as it appeared in the original source newspaper, The Detroit Free Press:

      “He noted later that the person in the job also was classified as a welder, which was his main job. Under the reorganization plan, the number of job classifications would fall to 31.

      Hurding said employees are hungry for changes. He said he interviewed a plumber who was sent to fix a broken pipe.

      “He had to wait half a day for an operator to come to shut off the valve so he could fix the pipe,” Hurding said.

      Under new job classifications, the plumber would be trained to close the valve himself so he could fix the pipe immediately, Hurding said.

      • liz

        So nitpick a minor detail out of this entire enormous pile of excrement that is the leftist destruction of Detroit and pretend that it changes the reality that is exposed here?
        The evidence of the stupidity of leftism is overwhelming and Detroit is exhibit A. And rather than admit it, they just double down on the stupidity, corruption, and destruction.
        Have fun with your continued crusade to bring Mr. Greenfield in line with the “fair and balanced reporting” that the mainstream media is so obviously covering this with.

      • Webb

        Uh, it says Arnold Ahlert wrote this article. Better get your meds checked, Asscan.

        • Americana

          Apologies to Daniel Greenfield, I’ve obviously read all the FPM stories this a.m. and merely transposed names. Same difference applies to anyone rewriting a story. That’s not nitpicking by the way, that would be a highly controversial interpretation of the fact there’s a horseshoer on the employment rolls.

          Actually, liz, that is a story originating from the mainstream media which you all so vilify that brought Detroit’s mismanagement to light. It was the DETROIT FREE PRESS that researched and developed the story. As for the mismanagement being attributable to solely the Democratic party and labor, that’s not entirely accurate given that the Detroit Big Three automakers didn’t respond fast enough to the threat represented by Japanese car makers who offered American consumers smaller, better designed, less expensive vehicles. The American auto makers continued to base their business on large American cars at higher prices. That’s a significant business error and if it hadn’t been pursued for over three decades, the American car market might never have imploded quite so dramatically. Sure, concessions should have been demanded from the unions and the unions should have agreed to them, but the implosion of the American car industry and the city of Detroit are intertwined in ways that don’t leave much wiggle room for evading city bankruptcy.

          • Webb

            Nice bit of insane drivel.

          • Habbgun

            I’m beginning to think functional Aspergers on this one. Gets the words right but not the meaning. I’m being serious.

          • Drakken

            I do believe you might be on to something, special ed.

          • Americana

            Habbgun will travel attempts to shoot down someone he’s been gunning for for several days… Too bad you settle for such a simple straightforward blooper and try to blow it up into a revelation. If you’ve can’t score any actual points, make sure you opt for the checking against the boards…

          • truebearing

            Shoot you down? You never got off the ground, Dodo.

          • Americana

            Try to write something longer than your usual 6-word webbinaire just to prove you’ve got some thinking going on.

          • Jevenal Tiberius

            There is no arguement about that the three Big Automakers making bad business mistakes in comparison to the Japanese autmakers and eventually helping in the demise of Detroit. Yet your point is moot because the business practices of the BIg Three has nothing to do how Detroit is run by its city council and mayor. Even if you grasp straws by saying that since the Big Three laid off its workers and therefore no income tax is entering the city coffers, the city should be implementing programs to keep the city running with less people, reduced wages and benefits etc. The point of the article is how the Democratic controlled city of Detroit has has failed with its cronyism system of running the city.

          • Americana

            That’s very true, Jevenal, however, there’s a nasty vortex between dropping population demographics and dropping business demographics that when coupled w/city corruption at the level that joke of a mayor practiced it, left the city nowhere to go but down. Would Detroit have survived if the mayor hadn’t done what he did? I doubt it. But it’s a shame that such a foreseeable sh*tstorm hit the city when EVERYONE and EVERYTHING involved should have made better plans.

            The unions, all of them, should have made delayed payments part of their salary plans. The automakers should possibly have seen they wouldn’t survive as a threesome and opted to consolidate into one or two and so on and so on. It’s a great city and it’s an enormous ghost town… It’s one of the bigger venues for those folks interested in urban archaeology…

      • http://www.stubbornthings.org NAHALKIDES

        Not only did you get the author wrong, you also apparently didn’t read the article. The reduced number of job classifications is obviously something that AFSCME would fight against, since they did before. They’re a union, guy, which means they insist on “featherbedding” practices such as requiring two men to fix a pipe instead of one.

      • nightspore

        Gee, a professional “fact checker”. Are you paid by the word or the paragraph?

        • Americana

          Facts are important. Why eliminate the one essential element about the horseshoer guy also being a WELDER? I own horses so I happen to know there was a strong likelihood the guy had other metal skills, but this story treated him as if he was an ANACHRONISM from the horse and buggy days and that there had been a position on the Detroit city staff for a horseshoer since that time. That doesn’t bother you? You WIN your case based on facts, not on PHONY FFFFFFACTS.

      • Bob

        What does this have to do with people not paying their bills?

  • CDM

    The typical habit of the left is to find some problem and then demand that other people solve it for them. If Blue Planet Project et al. is so concerned, why don’t they pay the delinquent bills on behalf of those that they supposedly care so much about?

    You will be more likely to see the sun rise in the west than you will see Meera Karunananthan, Maude Barlow, and the rest of their ilk open up their own wallets.

  • Gee

    Israel is owed over 1 billion shekels by the Arabs, and the US, EU and UN screams anytime we try to collect for either water or power used

    • Webb

      Collect? Just shut it the eff off until the Presbyterians pass the plate to the UN to pay the bill. Problem solved.

      • Gee

        No argument from me

    • Drakken

      Cuttem off, and let the leftards scream and holler. Maybe those bloody ragheads might come to their senses if their starving.

  • Demo P. Seal; PouponMarks

    Put Detoilet under martial law, and run it like a POW camp. Or juvenile detention.

  • Wolfthatknowsall

    At least, they still have their “Obama phones”, which came from “Obama’s stash”. The UN will bring them water, right?

    Nothing is free …

    • Demo P. Seal; PouponMarks

      Why earn your way these days? Drop out, drug up and the Gummint will pay you not to work. Some welfare mothers make MORE on various welfare programs than the average income for their state.

  • Hard Little Machine

    It’s pretty simple. When no one pays it stops operating. They can hang out their begging bowl for the state or Obama to pay it or they can operate w/o having people pay for it.

  • DennisMets

    In florida esp Jacksonville florida poor people do not pay for water, but that causes the rest of them to pay more, that is the liberals way. give it away to some and force the rest of us to pay for everyone else

  • UCSPanther

    We can add high priced water woes to an ever growing list of why Detroit sucks…

  • WhiteHunter

    The tailless bipedal fauna of Detroit should feel perfectly at home skulking among the burned-out store fronts, crack houses, methadone clinics, rescue missions, pimps, gangbangers, and crack ho’s. After all, these are all products of the ancestral culture and Third World attitudes, values, and habits that, we’re told, are so vastly superior to our “racist” Western ones. They reflect the outlook and values of Barack Hussein Osama and, in fact, most of his political Party. This is the nightmare vision of the future they have in mind for all of use–themselves and their friends exempted, of course.

    The denizens of Detroit have, incredibly, recreated the “living” conditions of Haiti and Africa right in the center of the North American continent, where it festers and rots just as it does in its lands of origin. It’s has been said that any civilized government must provide a few essentials to justify its existence and qualify as legitimate. Among those are: a safe municipal drinking water supply and working sewer system; safe roads and bridges; and adequate fire and police protection.

    Detroit, of course, can no longer offer any of those “amenities.”

    The voters of Detroit have brought down on their own heads a city “government” that would be perfectly at home in the filthy slums of Port au Prince, and shares all of the same characteristics, including total corruption, an utter inability (and unwillingness) to provide even the most basic municipal services, and a semisavage population that is incapable of anything other than wallowing in its own filth, poverty, violence, and swarms of illegitimate offspring.

    There is no cure; just–one hopes–the possibility of an airtight quarantine (or amputation) to prevent the disease from infecting healthy “tissue” with the same festering, fetid rot.

    Detroit is, indeed, Obama’s America.

    • UCSPanther

      Kwame Kilpatrick’s antics reminded me more of a stereotypical African tin pot dictator than any mayor I have seen…

      I’ll bet Papa Doc Duvalier would have done a better job at being mayor of Detroit…

      • Webb

        What you say about stereotypical African tin pot dictator reminds me of some film footage taken inside the UN HQ showing staff bowing and scraping in the presence of a black UN diplomat. I also saw a clip of Dan Rather and other Americans bowing and scraping in a similar fashion in the presence of Fidel Castro. Such sycophants are really really sick and would obey their leaders’ orders in a heartbeat to put us to death. They regard communists as high royalty akin to gods. So Kwame and others like him do indeed typify African strongmen portrayed by Eamonn Walker in Lord of War. Good catch, Panther.

        • UCSPanther

          What I imagine a tin pot dictator to be like, is one who is horrifically corrupt, doesn’t care about the nation (Or even his duties), only values power simply for the sake of lining his own pockets, and is violently belligerent towards anyone who even questions his authority.

          Generally, they are parasitic creatures that only drain what little lifeblood they can steal. Combine that aspect with others (IE Insanity (Idi Amin), megalomania(Jean-Bedel Bokassa) ideology (Mengistu Haile Mariam), etc) and you will have many of Africa’s typical tyrants over the decades.

          • Fritz

            The last on your list lead the Soviet backed “Derm” junta, whom modeled his regime, and it’s practices, after that of Joseph Stalin. So you had an African tyrant imitating a White, Communist tyrant, with support from the very White Soviet regime.

          • UCSPanther

            The Derg were some of the most brutal African tyrants I have read of. The Great Famine of the 1980s was due to their cruel policies. The only one who outdid them in willingness to kill was Francisco Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, but he was just a plain madman.

            The only other major famine that I heard of in Africa in the 20th century was instigated by the Nigerians to crush the Biafran uprising during the Nigerian Civil war.

            Uncle Joe would have been proud of both nations…

        • Americana

          This is the opportunity to show us a Webbinair that confirms that American diplomats and journalists actually bow and scape for Communists. If they regard the world’s Communists as “high royalty akin to gods, why hasn’t the Communist party managed to get tons and “tons of Commies elected to all levels of American government? I mean if the Democrats are infected to this extent, why aren’t the voting results beginning to demonstrate that the two parties are basically reinforcing each other? The demographics you need to prove your case aren’t there. Why aren’t they there? Because that’s not the status quo.

          • ricoC

            Who needs the Communist Party when we have the Democrat Party?

  • Peeved

    If every thing in detroilet died today, I would give not a single intercourse.

    • UCSPanther

      If one has a “detoilet” in their house, it is one that is perpetually clogged, broken down and has not been cleaned in a loooooong time…

  • chhelo

    Last time I looked at the map there are 2 fairly large lakes in Detroit.

    Just hand them some buckets and jugs and let them go get it if they don’t want to pay for delivery to their house.

    • Bob

      That would be to much like work and the ACLU would sue Detroit.

      • http://www.facebook.com/aemoreira81 aemoreira81

        Well…it would also cause major sanitation problems to the point where it would be non-feasible. At least the water coming through your faucet is supposed to be clean.

  • Bob

    A lesson to learn here, is PAY YOUR BILLS.

  • Fritz

    Imagine that? People don’t want to pay property taxes in a city where the street lights don’t work and it takes over an hour for the police to respond to a call. Then you take into account the corrupt Leftest “gentry” that has been elected and re-elected by campaign donation kickbacks from Unions in exchange from plush contracts for public service employees. It it any wonder still why the place is bankrupt and why nobody wants to pay their taxes?

    • Americana

      You must not understand what it means when a city is bankrupt and many of its citizens are bankrupt and services are cut and maintenance is not performed.

  • Lorilu

    Why is the cost of water in Detroit “outrageous” at $80/month? I know many people who pay that much in other locales. Don’t like it, conserve.

    • http://www.facebook.com/aemoreira81 aemoreira81

      In NYC, based on the cost and consumption, the water and sewer charges would only be half that, plus the service charges.

  • Mitchell McConnell

    The problem is not just leftist policies and politicians, destructive as they can be. Portland, Oregon and many other liberal cities fit that profile and do not have these problems. Just Google “SBPDL Detroit Fail” to get the real reason. No amount of bailouts or restructuring will solve the root cause of Detroit’s failures.

  • shmo123

    Just when I think Detroit couldn’t sink any lower or become more pathetic, they always prove me wrong.

  • NonPCconservative

    How is it that the left sees a “deep racial divide” when the real problem is a vast chasm between responsibility and irresponsibility.

  • Michael Gersh

    There is no “right” to water anywhere in the world. The UN has recognized that more than half of humanity has difficulty getting access to clean water. If they are not doing much to get water to children in Liberia they will do even less to pay water bills for affluent Detroiters with homes, cars, $200 sneakers and cell phones. The best the UN may do is supply blue buckets to citizens of a city with two lakes.

  • Atikva

    “We’re hoping the U.N. will put pressure on the federal government and the state of Michigan to do something about it.”

    Yeah, sure! If Meera Karunananthan should have spared herself the ridicule of such a statement by learning how the United Nations functions. She would have realized that the U. N. is not a super power who can impose its diktats on any of its Member States. Actually, the U.N. doesn’t have any means to enforce its Resolutions, let alone to force its members to pay their dues or to fulfill the commitments they made when joining the Organization – even less to interfere in their internal affairs.

    On the contrary, the U.N. depends on its members for its very existence since they are its only source of income. It is the USA, as its main contributor, who can put pressure on the U.N. by suspending all or part of its payments and past administrations have indeed availed themselves of this means to curtail some of the U.N. controversial activities. Mr. Obama has reversed this past policy and gracefully replenished the U.N. coffers by paying the US arrears – with our taxes, of course.

  • roberta4343

    why don’t those complainers in government take the money out of their own wallets and pay the bills for the poor poor? no money the water utility cannot run, money is the current of economic charges. without it everything along the supply line stops. there is no such thing as right to water per say (not if it involves involuntary servitude to provide it) except maybe a flowing stream on your property or rain stuff like that. government cannot impose positive rights without violating the very rights they claim to be protecting. positive rights requires the initiation of force and violence in order to protect those positive rights, negative rights only need government to repel the initiation of violence by those who want to violate negative rights. big difference. if you need water and have no money how about collecting rain water in barrels or siphoning water out of a lake or something? (I don’t know how drinkable it would be you might get sick drinking it but surly you can use it to clean your clothes and take a bath, and use the rain water for drinking.? it is a shame the people are suffering because of the corruption in government and corporate take overs. it is not the same all over the victims always get stuck with the bills and damage and the crimiinals all walk away more rich then when they started.

  • Viking.

    At the same time these socialists send aid to African Muslim countries. They only have one card to play:
    http://www.canindia.com/wp-con