Flint, MI– The Flint City Council will be holding four listening sessions with the community to hear how residents want the city to spend American Rescue Plan Act funding.
But there seem to be different understandings between the council and the administration about which governmental body gets to make the proposals for how the funds should be spent.
In March of this year, the city learned that it would be receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic.
Flint will receive $94.7 million, half of which has already been deposited into a city account. The final rules for how to spend the money have not been announced, but there are interim guidelines.
In October, the city presented the council with a draft of five spending priorities they came up with using community input which is published on the city website. But it’s not detailed, and there are no costs associated with any of the spending categories.
The city’s draft simply outlines five spending categories, with three subcategories under each:
- Economic Development and Blight Elimination
- Demo blighted structures
- Housing/Partnering with developers
- Support immediate economic stabilization for small business
- Safety and Crime Prevention
- Mini police stations
- Respond to pandemic-related gun violence
- Premium pay
- Identify and remediate lead hazards in eligible homes
- Supportive housing for individuals experiencing homelessness
- Housing vouchers and assistance to neighborhoods
- Lead service line program
- Improve access to clean drinking water
- Increase capacity at water and sewer treatment facilities
- Public Health
- Increase community health navigation
- Capital investments in community centers to meet pandemic operational needs
- Access to services and programs to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19
During a special meeting on Dec. 1 to discuss the ARPA funds, the council requested that the administration provide more details for this draft, voiced some of their personal ideas for the money, and expressed concerns about the transparency of this process.
Vice President Allie Herkenroder said she felt the current draft did not offer long-term solutions for the city.
“These are one-time dollars that we will never ever get again,” Herkenroder said. “Why are we not focusing on long-term solutions to help move our city in a tremendously forward fashion?”
She said she’d like to see a portion of the funds be used for broadband infrastructure, an issue she spoke about while running for council.
“Broadband infrastructure is not included in here at all, which is a major problem for the community considering 40% of our residents do not have access to broadband, because of a number of reasons, which is an eligible use under this guideline,” Herkenroder said.
She also requested the administration provide proposed dollar amounts for each of the categories they suggested.
“This is not a budget, this is an infographic. And we don’t know how much money is slated to go toward mini (police) stations compared to improving access to clean drinking water,” Herkenroder said. “I think that this city, and I think that this body, is deserving of having a little bit more, for lack of a better word, transparency with where the administration is thinking that they want the most dollars to go within these buckets.”
Members of the council were also concerned about whether the administration would accept proposals brought forth by the council, or if it was the administration’s belief that proposals could only come from the mayor’s office.
“Is it the administration’s point of view that the council can’t act on these dollars or allocate them until you provide a proposal?” Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer asked.
Chief Financial Officer Robert Widigan said that “any budget amendments would have to come from the mayor.”
Pfeiffer and Councilman Eric Mays argued that allocating this federal funding was not the same as making a typical budget amendment.
“We can do resolutions, ordinances to put money in a certain category whether the mayor ever do it or not,” Mays said. “And if he gets mad if we do it, guess what he can do? He can veto it, and we can override the veto.”
Widigan told the council that the city’s draft was open to public input and council input, and that the administration wanted to work with the council on this.
Herkenroder asked him if that meant that the council could come forward with their own proposed budget of how to spend the funds.
Widigan, in response, said that “this is a joint effort to collectively work together to determine a plan to spend the dollars.”
Even with uncertainty of how the spending proposals will come about, the council agreed that more public input was needed.
Councilwoman Tonya Burns said she was concerned that the city hadn’t gotten much of a response from the community about how the funds should be spent. The city is taking suggestions from residents in a poll, and also held meetings in each ward, but Burns said there seemed to be low turnout.
“I went to several of them, at least three of the ward-by-ward tours, and it was a very low turnout unfortunately…the public wants clear transparency, and I’m not feeling that we’re getting transparency,” Burns said.
Herkenroder requested that the administration provide the council with the results of the survey.
Pfeiffer suggested that the council hold four listening sessions on their own, in the north, south, east, and west quadrants of the city, and invite the community to share how they feel the funds should be spent.
The council voted 5-0 to do so, with Councilwoman Ladel Lewis, Councilman Quincy Murphy, Councilwoman Judy Priestley, and Councilwoman Eva Worthing absent. Dates for the meetings have not yet been determined.