Flint, MI– The Flint City Council voted to use about $1.8 million of the American Rescue Plan Act funds to replace a 58-year-old water main on Miller Road officials warn could break at any time. 

While the council understood the time-sensitivity of the project, it was a “difficult decision” for some members who had hoped to see an overall budget for the ARPA funds before approving any projects. 

“It is fiscally irresponsible for us to approve this without having a full ARPA budget, and it’s fiscally irresponsible for us to not approve this, given the fact that we know it’s going to break. It’s just a matter of when,” said Council Vice President Allie Herkenroder.

Last year, the city learned that it would be receiving $94.7 million in ARPA funding as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic. 

Since the money has come in, council members have been divided on how to go about spending it–piece by piece, or with every dollar budgeted in advance. The council and mayor have been holding public input meetings to hear residents’ priorities for the city, and some council members want to wait until all those meetings have been held before creating a budget for the funds.

The council remained divided during their special meeting on March 3, but ultimately voted 5-3 to enter into a contract with Zito Construction Company and Spaulding DeDecker to replace the water main for $1,873,634.27. 

According to the resolution, the water main on Miller Road, between Hammerberg Road and Ballenger Highway, “has had numerous breaks and repairs since its installation,” and is well past its lifespan. 

Mike Brown, the Department of Public Works director, said that this work would replace the old cast iron water main, installed in 1964, with plastic pipe and new hookups to all the homes down Miller Road into that new pipe.

Brown told the council last week that the city would begin reconstructing the road with or without replacing the water main. But if they don’t replace the water main first, the city will eventually end up tearing up the repaved road to replace it in the future. 

Some council members wondered why the water main replacement wasn’t already included in the road reconstruction project, and why ARPA funds needed to be used for this instead of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) funds. 

According to Brown, water main replacement was originally part of the project, but the city “had to pull it out because there were no monies available.” 

City Administrator Clyde Edwards said it would take too much time to use the WIIN funds because the water main replacement was not a part of the projects council approved using WIIN funds for. 

“So it would have to go through the same operation of approval that took place to get the ones that are in the WIIN proposal,” Edwards said. “So that’s much longer. … There’s not the time.”

In an effort to save time, Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer worked with the administration to bring this resolution forward using the same contractors already on the road reconstruction project, but this raised questions for some council members.

“We were told that the council don’t have the authority to move finances. So here’s a resolution that’s coming to council by our colleagues, and I have no problem with it,” said Councilman Quincy Murphy. “I don’t mind supporting it. … Still, we also had a resolution to come to council for the food market for $600,000, and we was told that we couldn’t approve this resolution to council for a food market because they have to come from the mayor and administration.”

During their meeting on Feb. 28, the council was told that any spending resolutions needed to come from the mayor. This came up during discussion of a resolution brought by Council President Eric Mays to allocate $600,000 in ARPA funds to the North Flint Food Market project.

Chief Financial Officer Robert Widigan told the council at that meeting that “the city charter requires that all budget amendments come from the mayor.”

Councilwoman Eva Worthing asked if the council was not allowed to “bring forth budget amendments as this one,” referring to the resolution for the food market. Widigan replied, “That’s correct.” 

The administration did not try to stop the council from approving the resolution for the water main project however, and Brown last week told the council this would be “a good reason for using the ARPA funds.”

Pfeiffer told his colleagues approving the water main replacement resolution he brought forward would not only make “fiscal sense,” but could set a precedent for the administration allowing resolutions to be brought by council in the future.

“This would potentially set precedent, right? Because this is a good one where the administration agrees that it needs to be done. … So it would be to their benefit to follow through with this,” Pfeiffer said. “So this is potentially precedent, as well as doing good for the city.”

Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter, Councilwoman Tonya Burns, Mays, Murphy, and Pfeiffer voted to approve the contract. Councilwoman Ladel Lewis, Councilwoman Judy Priestley, and Herkenroder voted against the contract.

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...

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