Flint, MI—An argument over procedure resulted in Flint City Council losing quorum and taking no action on millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding following a budget presentation by the council’s ad hoc ARPA committee.
Since receiving a $94.7 million ARPA allocation in spring 2021, the city of Flint has obligated or spent slightly more than one third of its funding, with a majority of that money going toward one-time water credits in late September 2022 and demolitions of Genesee County Land Bank properties.
The ARPA allocation timeline has been extended by what some council members deemed a non-specific initial budget from Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s camp and allocations involving “community grants”–funds that organizations are meant to apply for but for which no application process has been finalized by the city.
On Oct. 17, 2022, Flint City Council offered its own plan for the ARPA dollars, leaving the mayor’s spending categories the same but moving line-items around to suit the feedback council members said they had received from residents.
“We heard the community, the community wants their homes fixed,” said Councilwoman Judy Priestley, who chairs the council’s ad hoc ARPA committee alongside Councilwoman Dr. Ladel Lewis. “The community wants their youth trained. They want health programs, and yes we do need some city services to be upgraded.”
Priestley then outlined council’s proposed changes, line-by-line, to the budget they received from Mayor Neeley.
Category 1: Neighborhood Improvement (called Housing & Blight Elimination in the mayor’s plan)
Council’s budget added $5 million to improve parks and community centers–an item moved from the “Public Health” category in the mayor’s budget. The budget also eliminated a $1 million line item for tax foreclosure avoidance, which Councilwoman Lewis later noted they “didn’t understand” properly and are looking for ways to add back in.
Priestley noted $1.5 million of the parks and community center funding would be offered in the form of community grants.
Category 2: Economic Development
Council’s budget removed $5 million from the mayor’s budget to “rehab business buildings.”
It also increased “loans to businesses” from $375,000 to $1 million and removed $350,000 from “property disposition” and another $1.5 million for improvements to Oak Business Center, instead adding $2.5 million to “youth job training.”
“We feel it’s very important to train our youth, have them learn a skill,” Priestley said. All $2.5 million would be offered in the form of community grants in the council’s budget.
Category 3: Public Safety
Council’s budget left the mayor’s “Public Safety” category largely untouched, leaving all spending in place (though it did move to other categories) aside from eliminating the PAL Pilot Program, $250,000 for “third party review of 911 response to city calls” and another $350,000 for a “gun bounty” program.
“Gun bounties: they don’t work. The studies are there,” Priestley said in explanation. “We removed the funding.”
Priestley also noted the council added $70,000 in funding for a secured lot for city and police vehicles.
“We’ve had city employees’ vehicles broken into behind the police station,” Priestley said. “We added that to protect our police officers and their personal equipment.”
Category 4: Public Health and Youth Development (called Public Health in the mayor’s plan)
Council moved the creation of a City Public Health Office to the “Revenue Replacement” category and the improvement of parks and community centers to the “Neighborhood Improvement” category.
Otherwise, the council proposed $4.5 million be offered as community grants for work in food access, mental health referrals, services and support, youth wellness, and health care access, equity and research.
The youth wellness and health care access line items were not originally part of the mayor’s budget in the category.
Category 5: Infrastructure
The budget moved three items under the Mayor’s “Infrastructure” category to the “Revenue Replacement” category. Those items were the purchases of a skid steer, dump truck and excavator.
Council’s proposed budget otherwise eliminated funding for all other items, such as “lighting for water buildings,” “security cameras,” and an “addition to maintenance shop.”
Category 6: Revenue Replacement
The council agreed to the mayor’s budget proposal for the purchase of a skid steer, dump truck and excavator, having moved those items from “Infrastructure” to this category.
Council’s budget otherwise added $2 million for sidewalk repair and upped funding for city-owned tree removal from $100,000 to $2 million.
This category also included, among other items, the purchase of 15 vehicles for the city’s detective bureau, $30,000 per ward for “ward priorities,” and $750,000 to renovate Flint City Council’s chambers.
“As you look around, and as you feel on your bottom, we’ve got a hard wooden seat, we have some broken windows, and we also don’t have things to support the hearing impaired,” Lewis said. “So it’s a lot of things that we can do. It’s not us being selfish, it’s us wanting to accommodate you to have better.”
Priestley also noted that the council budget she and Lewis presented was missing $500,000 for a “water affordability study” that they hoped to add in.
After moving to discussion, however, a concern over proper procedure quickly derailed any additions or changes council members might have suggested to what Priestley and Lewis shared.
As discussion opened, Councilman Eric Mays said there should have been a rule change to account for the two, five-minute rounds of discussion offered to council members during the special meeting and questioned whether the ad hoc committee had met “illegally” to develop the budget, a comment which Lewis immediately objected to.
Mays then said he believed the budget would not pass, and called for a motion to pass the budget.
Chair of the meeting, Council Vice President Allie Herkenroder, said that she could not ask for a second on Mays’ motion because there was no resolution associated with the budget as presented. Mays appealed Herkenroder’s decision and was seconded by Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter.
“This document does not have any resolution with it,” Herkenroder said during the appeal. “The action of the council must be done by resolution or ordinance. Just because a motion is made does not mean that it is a valid motion. The role of the chairs to support or deny that that motion is not an order. I stand by that.”
Mays responded, “When a motion is made and put on the floor, your job is simply to ask, ‘Is there a second?’ But you don’t want to ask ‘Is there a second?’ in this big-time public meeting.”
Mays went on to allege that Herkenroder and other council members wanted to avoid a vote because they couldn’t pass the budget without Council President Dennis Pfeiffer and Councilwoman Eva Worthing, both of whom were not present at the Oct. 17 meeting.
Councilman Quincy Murphy then asked for the legal opinion of City Attorney William Kim regarding the requirement to ask for a second. Mays also appealed Herkenroder’s decision to allow Kim to give his opinion.
“That’s the stupidest thing for an elected official to have to ask,” Mays said.
As the appeal process continued, Priestley, Murphy and Lewis left their seats, though Priestley attempted to return before Herkenroder closed the meeting due to lack of quorum.
After the meeting, Priestley told Flint Beat that she expected a resolution regarding the council’s ARPA budget may be added to Flint City Council’s Finance Committee or Special Affairs Committee agenda in the near future.
In the meantime, roughly two-thirds of Flint’s ARPA funding has yet to be approved.
Federal guidelines require that the city’s ARPA funding is obligated by December 31, 2024 and spent by December 31, 2026. Any ARPA money not spent by the latter date will need to be returned to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.