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Flint, MI—Flint’s new city services manager wants to get back lost services and equipment in the Office of Blight Elimination.
Arnold Brown, who was appointed city services manager last month and has worked in the city in multiple positions related to waste collection for more than 25 years, presented a “wishlist” to the Flint City Council during a budget hearing on May 5, 2022.
His list included more than $1 million worth of equipment, four more blight laborer positions, and a weekly neighborhood clean-up plan.
Before being under emergency management, the city had much of what was on Brown’s list. If the council passes the necessary budget amendments, the city will start to retrieve services and equipment that were ended or sold under the state’s control.
“I want to succeed,” Brown said about his list. “I want the city to succeed. I don’t want us to be around here looking like a laughing stock.”
At the May 5 meeting, Brown said he’d like to add additional equipment to his department, including two garbage trucks, a lightning loader with a claw for removing blight and trees, and a Chevy one-ton pickup with a dump box.
He said the equipment would cost $1,320,000 but would help the blight office get “more bang for (their) buck.”
“We need to have the ability to go to our vacant (properties) without having to transport dumpsters or whatever, and be able to just randomly put things on the back of the truck and take them to the landfill,” Brown said about the need for garbage trucks.
Councilman Eric Mays said he remembers when the city used the garbage trucks to conduct neighborhood clean-ups.
“I used to ride in the garbage trucks, and you know we’d take Saturdays, the weekends, in the first ward before I was even a councilperson, and we did clean-ups in the neighborhood using the garbage trucks,” Mays said. “So they did help with blight, not just picking up the garbage, but also doing neighborhood clean-ups.”
According to news reports from 2012, the city’s former Emergency Manager Michael Brown had the city list 20 of their garbage trucks for sale for $75,000 each. If each truck sold, that would equal $1.5 million, which, according to reports, is less than half of what they were initially purchased for.
“You know, you’ve got to get equipment back, and you’ve got to try to inch your way back,” Mays said.
At the budget hearing on May 5, Brown said the cost for two garbage trucks would be $225,000 each—a purchase Mays said he would support.
Brown said he would need two additional positions for people with Commercial Driving Licenses to operate the trucks. The rest of the equipment doesn’t require operators to have special licenses, just training.
In addition to purchasing garbage trucks for the city, Brown said he would like to implement a neighborhood clean-up plan, like the one Mays remembers, using trucks from the city’s waste hauler vendor.
He said he reached out to the vendor and asked him to supply five trucks per weekend when they aren’t in use for neighborhood clean-ups. The hauler will provide the trucks and the drivers for 18 Saturdays, but various neighborhood groups will be responsible for rallying volunteers and planning the clean-ups.
“Anybody who wants to take advantage of a clean-up…can request a truck, or they can request a dumpster, and we’ll get the dumpsters out, and then everybody should be happy, hopefully,” Brown said.
According to Brown, the Department of Public Works sets aside money for neighborhood clean-ups each year. He said there is $70,000 in the fund “still sitting there.”
“So I’m going to do my best to spend it,” Brown said.
Mays said the clean-ups used to work well in the city and that he’s looking forward to having them back.
“We’d have the neighborhood organizations get together. We’d pull out the garbage trucks and ride around,” Mays said. “We’d ride on the back of them like garbage men, and we used to really do good back then.”
Mays said he hopes the city council will work together to pass a budget amendment to make Brown’s wishlist happen.
“That’s why we’re looking at the front-end loaders and garbage trucks and equipment because then you can go through and really get stuff done, even though they’ll re-dump again,” Mays said. “It was just something that we did usually every summer.”
On top of equipment, Brown is also looking to add five employees—one accounting clerk to do payroll and keep track of grant funding, and four laborers.
Currently, Brown said the Office of Blight Elimination only has two laborers. His proposal would bring that number up to six, but some council members doubted that was enough.
Brown explained that he had tried not to stray too far from the projected budget he was given once he took the job.
Flint City Councilman Quincy Murphy compared that number to the 300 volunteers who spent an afternoon cleaning up neighborhoods recently.
“When you look at the comparisons, you’re talking about six people versus 300 that came out for a couple of hours to do three streets,” Murphy said. “We’re talking about nine wards with six people. Make it make sense.”
Brown said he is focused on immediate solutions but isn’t opposed to asking for more in the future if the council wants that.
“I was just basing our information on what it was that we needed now because right now we’re not doing anything if you ask me,” Brown said. “So we need to get started somewhere. I’m thinking it is going to be each year we’re going to build upon what we already have.”
He said he is also working to find additional funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal grant program intended to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flint City Councilwoman Judy Priestley, who sits on the ad hoc committee for ARPA funds, said she believes ARPA funds could be used for Brown’s list.
“I definitely want to use the ARPA dollars for your equipment and not take it out of the general fund budget,” she said. “I know that there are plans, and I’ve had some talks with the mayor as well as our compliance firm regarding getting new equipment, and that will come.”
Flint residents have made it clear that blight is a top priority for how to spend the ARPA funds at various public input sessions held by the administration and the council.
Last month the council voted to spend $16 million of the city’s $94.7 million in ARPA funds on a plan to demolish blighted structures in the city.
On May 12, at 5:30 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, the council will call departments to go over budget questions with city departments.