[paypal_donation_button]FLINT, MI – The Flint City Council voted 8 – 0 in favor of a moratorium putting a stop to potential liens on thousands of properties in Flint for overdue utility bills.
The decision came after Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s office issued lien threat notices to nearly 8,000 Flint property owners.
“This is not right,” said Councilwoman Jackie Poplar of the lien threats on homes in Flint. “How shameful and I’m not going along with it. Whatever it takes we don’t care. We ought to pass it. (Weaver) can (veto) it if she wants to.”
Flint residents packed city hall tonight to voice their concerns regarding the lien threats. One by one they addressed the council saying the threat was unfair.
“Residents are being asked to pay for water that must be put through a filter before it is safe to consume and I know some residents have concerns about whether it is even safe then,” said Ben Pauli to the Flint City Council. “You couldn’t get away with that at a grocery store but we’re trying to get away with it here…I’m sympathetic to the city’s financial predicament. I know it often requires making tough choices but deciding how to fund city services we also have to decide what kind of city we want to live in. Is it a city whose revenue stream is made from threats and coercion or a city where residents are (willing to) pay into when they have the means because they trust that what they are doing has their best interest?”
Weaver announced in a May 3, 2017 statement that the city was obligated to follow the law regarding the city’s ordinance on tax liens for nonpayment of utility bills. The move gained national attention as Flint City Council members worked behind the scenes to figure out how to stop the lien process.
“This was already in the process…two weeks ago,” said Flint City Council President Kerry Nelson who called the special May 17 meeting. “It’s all about seeing the dollar signs and not the people. It’s no show to me. It’s real. The people who have called in my ward, it’s real to them. They received letters.”
Nelson along with Flint City Council Vice President Vicki VanBuren and council members Monica Galloway, Scott Kincaid, Herbert Winfrey, Wantwaz Davis, Kate Fields and Poplar all voted in favor of the moratorium.
Councilman Eric Mays abstained from voting saying he wasn’t sure if the moratorium was legal.
“It’s a political fight. It’s a show to try to make stuff look a certain way,” said Mays. “My fight is for law, order and the people I represent.”
Under the moratorium liens will not be placed on properties for at least one year for delinquent bills stemming back to 2014.
So far, it is estimated about 8,000 properties have been pegged to have liens transferred to tax bills for two years of billing totaling $5,806,448.62, according to Weaver’s May 3 statement. Property owners had until May 19 to pay past due bills to prevent the lien process from beginning.
“I must say, I agree with those who have spoken out against this process. I have met with our Interim City Attorney and Finance Director and they say the city is obligated by local ordinance to follow this procedure, and we must follow the law,” Weaver said. “As the Mayor of Flint and as a Flint resident, I understand the concerns that have been raised and I am working to see if any changes or something can be done to help those affected by this, especially given the extraordinary circumstances we have endured due to the water crisis.”
The statement also said the process is typically done annually but it was not done in July 2016 because of water relief credits provided by the state covering some of the cost of water bills for both residential and commercial water customers in Flint.
According to the city’s ordinance, the lien process goes into effect when payments are missed on water and sewer accounts for longer than six months.
Weaver can veto the council’s decision.
The issue also has to go before the state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board. Their next meeting is scheduled for June 14, 2017 at Flint City Hall.