Flint, MI– The Flint City Council discussed possible uses for $94.7 million in federal funds coming into the city, during a special finance committee meeting on Thursday, May 20.

In March, the City of Flint found out it would be receiving about $99 million in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan. On May 11, the U.S. Treasury released the finalized numbers, outlining $94.7 million for the City of Flint. 

The meeting was set to be an investigative hearing for 12 city officials who were subpoenaed at Monday’s special finance committee meeting, but that didn’t happen.

City Attorney Angela Wheeler said she immediately got to work on issuing subpoenas after the meeting on Monday, but that the rules require two weeks notice for an investigative public hearing. 

Instead of an investigative hearing, the council spoke with Chief Financial Officer Shelby Frayer and other members of the city administration about the budget and possible uses for incoming federal funds.

Frayer said that the first half of the funds had just been deposited into the City’s account on Wednesday, a total of $47,363,332. Now that the funds have arrived, the administration is drafting a resolution for council to accept the funds to be incorporated in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. 

Frayer said the funds were meant to be used to spark economic growth and development, and encouraged the council to consider making transformative change with the funds, rather than putting a little here and there. 

Here are some ways the council talked about using the money: 

Blight

One of the biggest concerns brought up by residents, and council members, was blight. The council proposed multiple various ways to deal with the blight problem in Flint using the incoming federal funds.

Councilmembers discussed using some of the money to purchase equipment, like front-end loaders. Councilman Eric Mays suggested coming up with an estimate for nine front-end loaders, and Director of Transportation John Daly said about six would be needed to clean the entire city.

Once the blight problem has been “stabilized,” Daly said the city could go down to three or four of them, and sell the others. 

But there would need to be workers to operate the equipment. The council talked about the various ways they could come up with workers, like through youth programs or other organizations.

Councilman Mays suggested young people do blight-related summer jobs, and Councilman Maurice Davis suggested using civilian subcontractors to operate equipment and do blight patrol.

Frayer said the guidelines for the funds as they are now, allow for the city to give “grants or loans to nonprofits to support folks that have been impacted by COVID-19.”

She said this was pretty broad, and would all come down to justifying how the pandemic impacted particular areas. 

Mays requested that there be a line item for each of the nine wards in the budget to see how funding is distributed among the wards. Frayer said that would be an “appropriate amendment.”

Public safety

At previous budget hearings, there were talks about purchasing special cameras for the police department to install around the city to assist with crime. 

Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter specifically asked about cameras that detect gunshots, and requested figures for how much those would cost. 

Mays also said he would want to further fund the detective bureau, patrol, as well as the I.G.N.I.T.E. Program at the Genesee County Jail, an educational program that allows inmates to earn their GED, and take a variety of different college courses.

Small businesses and community organizations

Councilwoman Monica Galloway said she hoped there would be a way to spread funds to community organizations that are already consistently working hard in the city. 

Councilman Davis expressed that he would like to see smaller businesses, and people just getting started, get funding, rather than the “same people getting money over and over.”

Frayer said that she could go through the language of the guidelines for the funds and see if there are opportunities to fund startups and small businesses, or anything else the council suggested. 

She said that the funds are intended to “stimulate the economy and economic growth. 

“Certainly getting dollars into the hands of…small businesses or nonprofits, trying to help the city’s residents through other means, besides our own general fund,” Frayer said.   

Other ideas

Councilman Mays proposed building a $14 million bottled water facility to generate revenue and put the city in the spotlight. Along with that, he proposed providing $500 water credits for the 31,000 water customers in the city. This would come to $15.5 million.

He also suggested putting $200,000 into the office of the ombudsman, and $30,000 into the Ethics and Accountability Board for staffing and other purposes. 

Mays suggested using the federal funds to make up for lost water and sewer revenue, but Frayer said the current language in the funding guidelines excludes utilities as lost revenue. 

The funds could go to covering income tax loss, but Frayer said the biggest challenge for that would just be coming up with the calculation for that. 

Councilman Herbert Winfrey said he would like to see the city pay back itself and take care of lost funds before doing anything else.

Frayer reminded the council that the city has five years to spend these dollars.

“That’s the other question for me…how do we best do that? Is it, you know, putting all $50 million into this year, or is it best to spread that out?” Frayer said. 

The city is requesting input from residents about how they would like to see the funds used. Here’s how you can weigh in:

Residents can continue to weigh in with their thoughts in multiple ways:

• Vote in this poll: surveymonkey.com/r/FlintFundingPriorities

• Send an email to input@cityofflint.com

• Mail comments to: City of Flint Budget Input, 1101 S. Saginaw St. Room 203, Flint, Michigan  48502

• Write comments and drop them off at Flint City Hall in the red drop box in front of the City Hall entrance.

• Call (810) 237-2000. All callers will be asked to leave a message with their comments, which will be transcribed and included in reports with other submitted comments.

The council will meet again next Wednesday, May 26, at 4:30 p.m. to continue this discussion. 

Amy Diaz

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...