Flint, MI— During a public hearing on March 25, the public weighed in on the proposed City budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley first presented this budget to Flint City Council on March 1, and called it balanced, but fragile. The newly appointed Chief Financial Officer Shelbi Frayer gave a brief presentation of the budget again last night, before public input. 

Frayer explained the City’s budget is balanced now, but with the way they’re spending, it won’t be sustainable over time. 

Currently, she said the City is running about a $13 million operating deficit.

“Not a deficit overall…we still have a $2.1 million fund balance projected right now for fiscal year 22, but structurally, we’re imbalanced because we’re only bringing in about $58 million, yet we’re spending $71 million,” Frayer said. “So of course over time that’s not sustainable.”

Frayer said increasing payments to Municipal Employees’ Retirement System has brought the budget to this point. In 2020, pension contributions were $22 million. In 2021, they jumped up to $33.6 million. For 2022, they’re an estimated $39.6 million. 

“So there’s definitely changes that need to be made to the MERS contributions, and we can talk about different options here as we go on, but I really want to make sure folks see the kind of the process right now or the plan for where we’re headed, if we don’t make some structural changes,” Frayer said. 

She also discussed the $99.33 million the City will be receiving in federal aid for COVID-19 relief from the American Rescue Plan.

Frayer said the City will be receiving two different payments, with the first $50 million expected to come in the next 50 days. She said as they receive the payments, they will learn more about what the City can and can’t use the funds for, and how they will incorporate them into the budget. 

Frayer said the funds are primarily to be used to respond to the public health emergency and negative economic impacts on households, small businesses, and nonprofits. Frayer said it looks like the funds cannot be used as direct pension payments, or to “offset any sort of tax revenue” the City would be receiving. 

Once Frayer finished her presentation, people from the public who wished to speak were given ten minutes each to voice their thoughts and concerns about the proposed budget. 

Arthur Woodson requested information about Flint residents’ water rates, and how much the City is paying in criminal lawyer fees for people facing charges for their involvement in the Flint water crisis.

“You give away money like it’s chump change,” Woodson said. “That’s why Flint is in the hole.”

He also asked about money for police, and mental health services, which other speakers asked about as well. 

Leslie Haney said she was concerned about the public safety budget, specifically that there weren’t more police officer and firefighter positions in upcoming fiscal years. 

“I was just hoping that there would be a way that we could find some money to get some additional police officers, I mean granted none are being laid off, but I think we need more on the streets,” Haney said. “The crime is really out of control, and the only way to get a handle on it is with more boots on the ground.” 

She said she hoped that any extra funding the City gets, could go to hiring more officers. Chris Delmeroni also suggested the City hire more officers, for patrol positions specifically, and have their positions funded by the tickets they write. 

He also requested a comparison of this proposed budget to last year’s.

“We should be checking out the layoffs during pandemic. Was anyone even laid off at all? Was there extra money left over from last year’s budget that could be brought forward to this year’s?” Delmeroni asked. 

Others called in asking about blight, and schools, but overall, there were only a handful of speakers. 

Councilman Eric Mays took issue with the way the meeting was conducted, and said the budget hearing should have included multiple department heads coming in discussing the budget and answering questions. 

City Attorney Angela Wheeler said the “purpose of this was to have a public hearing, not to necessarily have a council meeting per se.”

According to the City Charter, there must be a budget hearing before June, but Mays said the public didn’t have enough information yet to really comment on it. 

“If we were deeper in the budget process, it would have been different…if they could have had more details leading up to it,” Mays said. 

Frayer said there will be additional budget hearings to come. The proposed budget can be seen here.

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...