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Flint, MI– The expenditures budget for the city of Flint’s executive department is set to increase by more than $1 million next year.
During a budget hearing on April 18, Mayor Sheldon Neeley told the city council that the increase is largely due to new staff, including public health navigators, an assistant to the city administrator and more workers in blight management.
Here is what they discussed:
Councilwoman Judy Priestley pointed out that for the mayor’s office, the number of positions are budgeted to increase from 11 to 18.
“Where are those seven additional positions going? Who are they? What titles? What job responsibilities? That’s a big jump,” she said.
According to city officials, these are “public health navigator” positions through the city’s Office of Public Health.
Chief Resilience Officer Lottie Ferguson explained that the jump in numbers isn’t quite so high, as there were more positions than 11 in 2022, but some were not noted because they were grant-funded. Ferguson said the grants for those positions may not be there in 2023, so now the positions are included as coming from the general fund.
“We do have some grants that are sunsetting. So there are some that need to be converted to the general fund,” Ferguson said.
Priestley said she had a problem with the budget not specifying which positions were funded by grants and which were funded by the general fund.
“We don’t know how many positions are grant-funded. We have no clue. And I feel like I’m trying to reach for information, and I don’t have the information because we don’t know that number,” she said.
The expenditures for the mayor’s office increased from $371,849 in the adopted budget for 2022 to $1,101,780 in the proposed budget for 2023. Neeley said this increase is due to those public health navigator positions and the expiring grants.
“We cannot effectively say that we’re going to be getting these grants until the grant has been awarded … but the idea is the level of service that we provide our residents,” Neeley said. “We don’t want to project a level of service decrease.”
Priestley asked if it was necessary for the city to have an office of public health in addition to the county’s health department.
Ferguson explained that these two entities offer a “completely different set of services.”
“Our Office of Public Health provides individualized services to residents. They are public health navigators, which means they guide people to the resources that they need,” she said. “They have a hands-on approach, so if someone comes in and says, ‘Hey, I am struggling to feed my children,’ then they can direct them to the appropriate services through the community referral network.”
Neeley said the public health office needs to grow and that the city would be working to make sure they get grants to subsidize areas of need within that office.
Aside from personnel, Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer questioned some of the city’s supplies and operating expenses.
Supplies and operating expenses for the executive department are set to increase from $134,616 to $228,200. Officials told the council that 65% of the increase is for the blight division and the remaining 35% is split between the office of the city administrator and the mayor’s office, but did not give an itemized list.
Pfeiffer said he wanted to know if certain items–like the mayor’s car or postcards he’s sent out–are a part of the budget.
“I’m really going to point to this office’s lack of fiscal responsibility and sending out postcards from the mayor,” Pfeiffer said. “I think that that is not a fiscally responsible thing to do. Is that included in this line item? Is the mayor’s car included in this line item?”
Neeley said that the mayor’s office does “a lot of community outreach” and that while the cards do come out of that particular budget, “it’s a very nominal cost.” He also said this kind of outreach is “historic” and that there is not an increase in these operations under his administration.
Regarding the car, Neeley said he occasionally uses it as part of a fleet operation and not as a personal car.
“It’s not a dedicated car only for my service, but it’s a car that I do use, much like any other operational opportunity for blight operators or anybody else,” Neeley said. “So that’s not my personal car. I don’t use it for personal things.”
He said he would work to get the council a detailed, itemized list of the expenses within the budget.
City administrator’s office
The city administrator’s office expenditures will increase from $444,372 in the adopted budget for 2022 to $512,326 in the proposed budget 2023.
City Administrator Clyde Edwards said this was because he was going to be hiring an additional assistant, bringing the number of people in his office up from three to four people.
“Given the requirements in terms of supporting council and helping council, getting questions answered and so forth, it was already taxing on the one assistant that I have,” Edwards said. “That person has been fulfilling those duties plus other duties that were already assigned to that person.”
Edwards said the slower response the council is experiencing in getting requests answered is due to the fact that it’s just one assistant trying to handle it all.
“One person is trying to handle all those complaints and I think we’re up to 125 complaints. or 125 referrals, that have been sent by council,” he said.
In addition to helping with the referrals from council, Edwards said they would also take on other duties that the administration is developing now.
Neeley told the council that blight management was moved from the planning and development department to the administrative office in 2020. While he said there are no plans to remove it from the administrative office, he said the administration is open to dialogue about how they can “restructure and accommodate residents of this community better.”
The expenditures for blight management in 2021 was $247,415. The adopted budget for 2022 included an increase to $392,466, and the proposed budget for 2023 includes another increase to $647,512.
“We’re going to be increasing the level of blight workers in that department significantly to be able to handle the caseload that’s out there inside the field,” Neeley said. “We’re going to be making the blight department a very robust department that can actually handle the level of blight inside the city of Flint.”
Pfeiffer said he would like to know the headcount for the blight department and their roles. Officials said that there are seven budgeted positions for 2023.
“What’s their accountability? Who’s going to manage them?” Pfeiffer said. “I know the blight department reports up through Mr. Edwards, but I think we need … to have a higher level of accountability in that office.”
Neeley said that’s part of why he appointed Arnold Brown as the city services manager.
“We’re going to be doing some tree removal inside the city of Flint, we’re going to be doing blight assist teams operation,” Neeley said. “We’re looking at internalizing some level of health hazard demolition in our department, and also some more robust levels of ground operations. And that supervisional piece is out of my office under the direction of Mr. Arnold Brown.”
Councilman Quincy Murphy said he thought blight needed to be moved to another department entirely due to his experience filing complaints and requests that were not resolved. He also said he thought there needed to be more employees out in the field fighting blight, and higher wages for those employees.
“I’m going to just say I think we are dropping the ball when it comes down to blight. I’ve been doing work with blight for over 20 years. … I think it’s almost criminal to even have those skeleton crews going out there trying to take on cleaning up the whole entire city of Flint,” Murphy said.
Neeley said his administration has been working to build capacity in the blight department, and that they are expecting to receive some “high level grants” to work on fighting blight.
“A million dollars will be delivered for the operations of blight from the state of Michigan. That is coming,” Neeley said. “We’re just waiting for the grant agreement, and then you guys will have the opportunity to approve that grant agreement.”
A budget hearing specifically for Blight Management will be held on Thursday, May 5, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The schedule for other budget hearings can be found here.