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Flint, MI– The Flint City Council is considering using American Rescue Plan Act funds to fund a water infrastructure project, and a grocery store on Flint’s north side.
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 the money–piece by piece, or with every dollar budgeted in advance. As the resolutions to use ARPA funds for these two projects came before the Flint City Council on Feb. 23, those same discussions continued.
If approved, the first resolution would allocate $600,000 to the North Flint Food Market project, which would be used to “alleviate major cost increases to the overall grocery store budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated supply chain issues.”
“This is just a great thing to happen. I will be supporting this 100% as an African American Black man that grew up in the north side of Flint. … I’m going to make a statement that it is time for us to start investing in our community,” said Councilman Quincy Murphy.
Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer said he would be supporting the resolution because Flint is in need of grocery stores.
“I think we have a party store epidemic. And how many people in this city have to buy food from a party store? So that’s why I will be supporting this because I think that too often, we don’t realize how many people have to walk to the party store to get food,” Pfeiffer said.
While all council members said they were in support of funding the food market on Flint’s north side, some felt the resolution was “premature.”
“I cannot back forwarding this to council. I have no problem with the North Flint Food Market at all. Do I want to support them? Possibly. Possibly,” said Councilwoman Judy Priestley. “I have no budget. Where’s the money going to go? There’s no budget.”
Councilwoman Allie Herkenroder said she wanted to have a full budget identifying all of the different projects they wanted to fund rather than allocating projects piece by piece, so they don’t run out of money for other projects down the line.
“When we have that full budget, when we have that full picture, we’re able to better identify, OK, we can’t put $600,000 toward the Flint food market, but we can put $550,000. We’re able to still fund the project,” Herkenroder said.
She said that’s a better alternative than spending all of the money on a few projects, and not being able to fund other projects at all.
“If we say OK, let’s cut a little bit here. Let’s cut a little bit here. Let’s cut a little bit here, so that this program can also be funded. … Is it partially funded? Yeah, but it’s still funded,” Herkenroder said. “ And it’s a lot easier to find $50,000 in grant funding than $600,000 in grant funding.”
Councilwoman Ladel Lewis said she’s already getting messages from residents asking why some projects might already begin getting funding, before the listening sessions have been completed, and before the council has set up a budget and criteria.
“This looks like we are opening up the floodgates for other people to slide us information and proposals and wants and desires before we hear from the public about what they want, how they want to spend it, before we can get a budget in place,” she said. “This seems like putting the cart before the horse.”
The conversation went similarly for the second resolution to enter into a contract with Zito Construction Company and Spaulding DeDecker “for additional services for a Miller Road Water Main Replacement Project” 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.”
Mike Brown, the director of the Department of Public Works, said that this would replace the old cast iron water main which was installed in 1964 with plastic pipe and new hookups to all the homes down Miller Road into that new pipe.
Brown said that the city is going to 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 down the line.
“If we don’t do it, we’re going to be then repairing the street because we’ll just have to put a patch on it, and then it will be patch after patch after patch and it will be back to being a rough road again,” Brown said.
Pfeiffer said he brought the resolution forward.
“It does not make sense to repave over a road with pipes on it that are 20 years past their lifespan,” he said. “So I brought this forward so that hopefully we can fix that.”
Brown said that, in his opinion, this would be a good use of the ARPA dollars.
“This a good reason for using ARPA funds, for a waterline or for other structural improvements that we need because it will last, you know, 50 years hopefully down the road, or more,” he said.
Like with the grocery store, Herkenroder said she is in wholehearted support of the project, but wants to see a budget plan before they start spending money.
“We have the opportunity to … leverage funds and opportunities and other programs for example, broadband infrastructure, maybe we could lay fiber while we’re doing this, too,” Herkenroder said. “We cannot do this if we don’t have a big picture of what we’re doing with these ARPA funds.”
Pfeiffer said this resolution was an example of “leveraging” funds.
“Because if it breaks, two months after we redo the road, where’s that money going to come from to repair the road and the waterline? … This is the closest thing we can do to leverage these funds in my mind,” Pfeiffer said.
Priestley said this was exactly the kind of project she anticipated the ARPA dollars funding, but still could not support the resolution without a complete budget.
“I can understand the time sensitive issue on this. I still have this problem with spending money without an overall view of how much we’re going to spend,” she said.
Ultimately, the council voted to send these two resolutions to the next city council meeting on Monday, Feb. 28.
So far, the council has only allocated a small portion of the relief funds, which has an allocation deadline of Dec. 31, 2024. In January, the council approved a one-year contract with a compliance firm to help ensure the rest of the spending is done correctly, for about $1 million. In February, the council approved spending about $3 million of the funds giving premium pay to certain essential workers.