Flint, MI—Flint City Council has voted to take alternative action after the city administration rejected the transfer of over 600 properties from the Genesee County Treasury to the city of Flint.
Instead, at an ad hoc meeting on Dec. 21, council voted to retain all of the properties within Flint’s first to fifth wards with active water accounts.
City officials have not responded to Flint Beat’s request for how many properties that decision includes.
The property transfer originally came before council in a special meeting on Dec. 16, but after hours of debate council lost quorum and failed to vote on the matter.
The properties were set to transfer automatically into Flint’s possession if the county treasurer did not receive an objection by Dec. 17, prompting Flint City Administrator Clyde Edwards to send a letter rejecting all 686 offered properties without city council’s decision.
It is unclear if the council’s resolution will be accepted by the Genesee County Treasury Office, which confirmed on Dec. 17 it was moving forward on the city administrator’s letter objecting to the transfer.
At the time, Council President Eric Mays said he and his fellow council members would still vote on the transfer at their next meeting, and he questioned the decision to move forward without council’s vote.
“Why would this administration and the county go through all these exercises to appeal to council if they already had the authority to take action?” Mays had asked.
In a Dec. 20 email explaining that action to council, Flint’s CFO, Robert Widigan, said: “Accepting over 600-plus properties from the county treasurer places an extreme liability on the City’s finances and insurance … this administration had to take action to exercise its first right of refusal on these properties by the county’s deadline.”
Widigan went on to note that accepting the properties would mean the city was responsible for the properties’ “maintenance, upkeep, security, insurance, liability, etc.” and that among those properties “approximately $522,876.19” was owed in unpaid water bills.
While council ultimately lost quorum at its follow-up meeting, too, the matter of transferring the properties was again brought up during council’s Dec. 21 meeting.
There, Councilwoman Tonya Burns questioned the legality of the city’s choice to bypass a council decision.
Burns cited areas of The Land Bank Fast Track Act 258 of 2003 and Flint’s Ordinance 18-21.14 which states “No interest in real property of the City of Flint shall be disposed of, transferred or otherwise alienated unless by ordinance or resolution of the City Council” before asking for the city attorney to weigh in.
Assistant City Attorney Bill Kim said, “In terms of those specific statutory citations—without having reviewed those—I couldn’t presume to speak on that. However, what I can say is that the mayor’s actions on Friday were entirely within the law and entirely consistent with the relevant state statutes and with the city’s charter.”
Mays said he respectfully disagreed with Kim and put forward an amended motion to keep two properties on the list, a furniture store he said was “up and running and willing to pay the city money” and a commercial building on Ballenger that Councilwoman Burns had mentioned in a prior meeting.
After some discussion, Councilman Dennis Pfieffer amended Mays’ motion to include all properties on the list that had active water bills and were located in Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 3, Ward 4, and Ward 5.
“What I’m hearing now is there’s two properties, and they’re commercial properties. So how does that help shore up our residential tax base?” Pfieffer said.
Councilwoman Judy Priestley added that she believed retaining the properties with active water accounts would keep people in their homes, and she didn’t see why the city should give those properties to the Genesee County Land Bank when they might still provide revenue for Flint.
“But why should the land bank get the money? If we can turn around and sell it to the renters ourselves then we’ve lost that money,” she said. “They’re going back on the tax rolls regardless, as long as they pay for the property.”
Councilman Quincy Murphy said to take on the properties in order to try to keep their current owners or renters stay in them was effectively what the land bank already does.
“Why reinvent the wheel?” Murphy said. “They (the Genesee County Land Bank) already have something in place.”
Councilwoman Ladel Lewis added that she too was against accepting any of the properties. She said the city already owned 18 properties from a past decision that still required action.
“The properties, the homes that we currently own, why can’t we make that our project and handle those, get those off of our roll?” Lewis asked her fellow council members. “Can we work on resolving what we have to show that, you know, we have the capacity to do so?”
Lewis said she questioned who would be responsible for administering the additional properties, as well.
“I know I can’t do it, and again, it’s not the job of council,” she said. “So are we about to create another job so someone else can do it? Who will be handling this?”
The council voted 5 yes, 2 no in favor of accepting all properties with active water accounts in Flint’s first through fifth wards.
Council Vice President Allie Herkenroeder and Councilwoman Eva Worthing were not present.
Priestley suggested council form an ad hoc committee to monitor the coming and current properties in the city of Flint’s possession, but did not agree to chair that committee when Mays asked if she would be willing to do so.