By Robert Allen
Residents can't use their tap water for drinking or bathing because of lead-contamination fears, but the city continues to bill them for it monthly.
"It feels like a slap in the face," said Claudia Perkins-Milton, 63, whose most recent bill was about $99. "The only thing the water's good for is flushing the toilet. That's it."
She was among about 100 residents who protested Monday in front of Flint's city hall. They burned paper and ripped up water bills as symbolic gestures.
Signs reading "Don't Poison My Daughter," "Killed by Toxic Water" and "Why Pay For Poison?" were waved at passing cars on Saginaw Street. Many people carried monthly water bills of about $100.
Free bottled water and filters have been offered from city fire stations as concerns of contamination persist. The concerns date to April 2014, when the city's water source was temporarily switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River, and improperly treated water caused lead to leach into the system.
Many residents say they've been buying their own bottled water for months and are outraged that they continue to be billed.
Flint residents pay some of the highest water bills in Michigan, and many advocates and residents have said it's wrong that the bills haven't been stopped or reduced since officials acknowledged the water is unsafe to drink without filtering.
On Monday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette repeated statements that it is "an outrage" that Flint residents are being billed for water they can't drink. And contradicting a statement Gov. Rick Snyder made in an interview, he said: "I would certainly not bathe a newborn child or a young infant in this bad water."
The protest was the latest of many in Flint's downtown as people continue to be frustrated by a problem that has no easy fix in sight.
Aaron Mason, 62, of Flint said at Monday's rally that the bottled-water handouts are "like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. What are you going to do with all these plastic bottles?"
The protest stayed peaceful; a few papers were burned and dropped into a metal trash can, and a fire truck and police vehicles were parked on the street, helping to protect people from passing cars.
But the frustration was palpable.
Marcelis Collins, 36, of Flint said he has a 2-year-old daughter whose bottles had been prepared using the city's tap water. "They told us that the water was safe to drink," he said. "So yeah, we did."
Another parent, Amanda Hughes, 36, waved a sign with a large photo of her 7-year-old daughter that said "Don't Poison My Daughter."
Hughes said she owns her home and is stuck in Flint; she said she wouldn't be able to sell her home legally until the water issue is resolved.
"What a shame that our children have to live like this," Hughes said.
Her daughter, Morgan Goodrich, joined her at the protest. "It's bad for kids, and I wish that it would stop," she said.
Kristin Moore, Flint's chief spokeswoman, said reports of people being threatened that their homes will be condemned or their children taken away if they have their water shut off are false.
"From what I understand, no shut-off notices have been sent since December and no disconnection of services on any active accounts have occurred since Aug. 7."
Asked why residents are being billed for water they can't use, Moore said she would relay those questions to the city's chief financial officer, who did not immediately provide a response.
The Attorney General's Office counts consumer protection among its roles. Schuette said he is "looking at what we can do," because "to me, that's like a defective product."
(c)2016 the Detroit Free Press