Flint, MI– One thing Flint City Council members can agree on is that blight is a serious issue facing the city, requiring the council’s attention and action.
But when it comes to the way to resolve this issue, they all have different ideas.
The proposed budget for the Office of Blight Elimination and Neighborhood Stabilization for Fiscal Year 2022 and 2023 was up for discussion during the third of what will be four council budget hearings on April 19.
The council was able to direct questions about the budget for blight, like how funds will be used and how much employees are paid, to the administration.
City Administrator Clyde Edwards said there are currently three full-time blight employees, and two part-time blight employees. The proposed budget makes room for two more full-time blight employees, and one more part-time employee.
Grants and Finance Coordinator Chay Linesman said that one full-time employee makes about $16 an hour, for an annual total of around $33,282 not including overtime. The proposed budget allocates $405,750 to the department for FY 2022 and 2023, compared to $392,466 for the current fiscal year.
When asked about how long it takes for blight employees to respond to complaints, Blight Management Analyst Lindsay Crawford said there is no specific time frame, but that they try to respond as fast as possible.
“Our laborers are scheduled weeks out, unfortunately just because of the volume of complaints and issues that we receive,” Crawford said.
Council members hear a lot of those complaints too.
“You know, this is something that I think every councilperson deals with every day is blight complaints,” said Council President Kate Fields. “And we go through the process, and the problem is, there simply aren’t enough laborers to pick up all the blight.”
Councilman Santino Guerra said he would like to see a form of patrol officers in the blight department, with employees who just drive around the city and pick up whatever blight they find.
Fields said she thinks there should be at least ten laborers in the blight department. She said she didn’t think the current wages were a problem, but Councilman Eric Mays said he would like to see an increase in wages for employees in the department.
“Service deserves rewards, and with the $99 million coming in, I want you to know some of it can be used to put $13 an hour over certain employees’ pay,” Mays said referring to the federal COVID-19 relief aid coming to the City of Flint.
Mays also said he’d look into proposing moving an additional one or two million into their department, if he could find it in the budget, and asked why they proposed “such a modest budget” for blight.
Edwards said the budget was an example of the administration’s “forward thinking,” in that they’re looking into the “possibility of obtaining some additional funding from some of [their] partners.”
Mays said that was what was said last fiscal year, and while the City received some money, he said it wasn’t to the extent of the millions he would like the department to receive. Edwards said there were “ongoing efforts to try to work towards a significant amount.”
Mays said he would dare the council not to adequately fund the blight department.
“It looks like a third world country around here,” he said. “We got to do a better job and my job is to fund it.”
Councilman Maurice Davis said he was a “proponent of dealing with blight,” but was against spending more of the City’s money to do so.
“I understand how fragile the budget is. Some of my colleagues don’t understand that, they just got wish lists,” Davis said. “They spending all the taxpayers’ money…every dime that we put out here comes out of somebody else’s pocket.”
Mays said that spending money the way taxpayers want it to be spent is exactly what the council is supposed to do.
“The residents want money spent on blight. I knew it last year and I know it this year. They lookin’ at blight and public safety,” Mays said. “You put the taxpayer money where they want it, and they want a clean city.”
Davis suggested instead that the City work with contractors, or see if cleaning up blight could be part of a work release program with the Sheriff’s Office.
“I know we don’t have a volume of workers, and I know we don’t have a volume of income…We got a sensitive budget, a very fragile budget, and every time we add to that budget it’s on the backs of people that’s paying water bills,” Davis said. “if it ain’t grant-related or volunteer-related, we in a little trouble in this city.”
Fields also suggested the blight department partner with different organizations looking for volunteer work, such as rehabilitation centers or programs for formerly incarcerated individuals.
“If we don’t have enough funding in this fragile budget to hire ten laborers, at least we can have somebody working on a plan to utilize regular volunteer groups on a regular basis,” Fields said.
Fields also thought the City could work with the residents more to get them to clean their own blight by setting up certain programs. She suggested partnering with the landfill, so residents could take their own trash there free of charge or at a very low cost. She also inquired about a tire program, and what the City could do to pick up tires left at the curb.
Crawford said the City actually has a couple initiatives that address those suggestions already.
Through City Hall, Crawford said residents can pick a “dump pass” from the treasurer’s office that will allow them to bring waste material to the landfill. She also said the City is planning a tire buyback program that will be in May.
Fields said she was happy to hear about these programs, but that there was a problem with each of them.
“One, a one-time-a-year buyback doesn’t do it, because people are dumping tires all year long,” she said. “And then regarding the landfill…the problem is, I’m a council person and I didn’t know we had that. I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of publicizing this.”