Flint, MI– During his State of the City Address, Mayor Sheldon Neeley applauded the city’s efforts in hiring police officers, improving roads, and bringing economic development to Flint.

Those were three things the mayor said he wanted to work on at his last State of the City address one year ago. 

“We’ve hired 22 new employees, from police officers to support staff with, more police officers hired in the last six months than there have been the last three years,” Neeley said about the police department. He also said that the fire department is now fully staffed for the first time in five years.

On the topic of public safety, Neeley said overall crime is down in Flint, with only an increase in homicides.

This is true, according to the last posted Crime Summary Comparison on the Flint Police Department’s website, which states that while other crimes are down, homicides are up 21.74% this year compared to last. However, the crime summaries have not been updated since Nov. 7.

Neeley added that the administration has been attacking this problem, as he declared a state of emergency in July due to gun violence. 

Since then, Neeley said the following have happened:

  • 55% of homicides committed in Flint have been resolved
  • Five police mini-stations have reopened
  • More than 30 volunteers have been trained to help police
  • Fifteen community crime grants have been provided to local groups
  • Local businesses have connected their surveillance systems with the police system

“We are doing the work that’s necessary to keep our community safe,” Neeley said. 

Neeley also spoke about fighting blight and said that this year alone the city has eliminated 240,000 pounds (120 tons) of blight. He encouraged residents to report blight to CrimeStoppers by calling 1-800-422-JAIL.

Improving roads was something Neeley said his administration would be doing in his address last year. 

“I’m so happy to report we’ve had some very successful movements in our road infrastructure repair and our transportation department,” he said during the address this year.

This year, Neeley said the city has:

  • Has repaved 5th avenue at 475 expressway
  • Swept more than 1,000 miles of roads
  • Resurfaced 19 miles of roads
  • Replaced 661 sidewalk squares

The city’s Director of the Department of Public Works Mike Brown also gave updates about various infrastructure projects in the city. He said:

  • Court Street is “finally paved and finally done” 
  • The project to fix water main breaks on Court is “about 99.5% done”
  • The Dort pump station is being rehabbed with new pumps. Once that is done, Brown said the Dort reservoir will be fully functional
  • Two projects related to water pollution control are being finished this year

Neeley also reported that Flint has completed “three successful testing cycles” as it relates to water tests that are required every six months for lead and copper levels. 

“Re-establishing trust is important to me. And I know it’s important to you,” Neeley said. “So if you still have a need and desire to have your water tested free of charge, you can dial (810) 410-2020.” 

Last year, Neeley said he was looking to bring in economic development to Flint, specifically to the “poverty corridor, North Saginaw (Street), Martin Luther King Ave.,” and provide businesses just starting with assistance and resources. 

This year, Neeley said the city has seen major investments “in all areas of the community,” including Ashley Furniture taking on vacant space, a groundbreaking for a grocery store in north Flint, and a groundbreaking for Consumers Energy’s “Flint Gas City.”

Neeley said that with a Kellogg Foundation grant, the city has brought in more than $84 million in new investment, and more than 350 jobs. Additionally, Neeley said the city has “reached over 243 small businesses in the past year,” with workshops and a small business campaign. 

“Investments are coming. New developments are coming. Jobs are coming and we are ready to keep building our economy,” Neeley said. 

Flint’s Economic Development Director Khalfani Stephens shared that this year, the city of Flint was one of only 51 organizations in the country to be awarded the Small Business Administration community navigators pilot program, a $1 million grant to help Flint-based businesses. 

“That technical assistance will be to help businesses do all the things they need to access capital, but not just capital,” Stephens said. “We’re going to be helping businesses with their financial planning. We’re going to be helping businesses with all of the legal resources they need, marketing, and a slew of different things.”

Other small business initiatives Stephens noted were:

  • Partnership with Michigan Venture Capital Associations to meet with small businesses at a program called “Coffee and Conversations”
  • Enjoy, Shop, Love Flint program to highlight small business in Flint

Neeley noted that large increases, including the increase to the city’s pension systems, are draining the general fund.

“We need to get control of this to continue having a balanced budget,” Neeley said. 

The city’s Chief Financial Officer Robert Widigan added that Flint faces “significant economic challenges and a large structural budget deficit caused by years of deindustrialization, state-funding reductions, emergency manager mismanagement, and past accounting gimmicks.”

With these issues, Widigan said it was important for the city to maximize their incoming American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“This $94 million of American rescue plan funding represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for the city of Flint to help our residents, businesses and future generations recover from the pandemic, and make progress towards a more sustainable fiscal future,” Widigan said.

In last year’s State of the City address, COVID-19 was a major topic of discussion, and it was the reason for the virtual address. In this year’s address, Neeley told residents that COVID-19 numbers are again on the rise in the city. 

“We must do our part to make sure that we protect our loved ones, ourselves and our community. We can slow the spread of this deadly virus,” he said. “Please be tested. Please wear your masks. Please get the vaccination and let’s keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.” 

Neeley noted the deathof Betty Wideman, a city employee for 26 years who died last year due to COVID-19. In June, the city renamed the transportation building in her honor. 

He also spoke of the death of a 3-year-old boy due to gun violence– an event that drove him to advocate for stronger gun laws, specifically related to drive-by shootings, in Lansing. 

“And we must continue to speak out against environmental injustices on behalf of Flint residents,” Neeley said. “This work was not done alone. You all were there. Change comes when all areas of this community come together and we are not finished. We must keep building through it all. We remain Flint strong. Flint proud.” 

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...

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