Flint, MI– During a community meeting to discuss the incoming $94.7 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds, residents said they’d like to see the money spent cleaning up blight, supporting the youth, and strengthening public safety.
On March 2, the Flint City Council hosted its third of four planned community input meetings to hear residents’ priorities for the funds.
The city learned it would be receiving the money last year as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic. While the money is COVID-19 related, the city can use it to tackle other public health issues, as officials explained at a previous meeting, so long as it fits within the eligible uses outlined in a 437-page document.
So far, the council has allocated about $4 million of the funds. About $1 million is paying for one-year contract with a compliance firm to help ensure the rest of the funds are spent correctly. About $3 million is going toward giving premium pay to certain essential workers.
Residents who attended the council’s third meeting at Asbury Church had many other ideas.
Third ward resident Mark Baldwin spoke to the council about blight and proposed a detailed $3 million plan to clean up the city over the next four years.
“Blight is a threat to health, safety. It is a contributor to neighborhood crime. It is basically a major detour to a pleasant life in many Flint neighborhoods,” he said.
As a starting point, Baldwin suggested forming two-person teams for each of the city’s nine wards. He said they would go through each public street in their assigned ward, pick up and bag all of the trash from one sidewalk to the other, and also cut the overgrowth so “sidewalks become passable.”
In addition to the staff, Baldwin proposed purchasing nine trucks, a few tractors, dump trailers, and phones for the workers to photograph and report blighted properties. By his calculations, the costs of equipment and salary for the workers would come out to about $3 million over four years.
He said taking care of blight would make the city safer, motivate residents to beautify their neighborhoods, attract investment, and “make for a more enjoyable living environment.”
Council President Eric Mays told Baldwin it was a “well-thought-out” plan and said he agreed 100% that money should go to equipment, personnel, and forming partnerships with other entities, like the Genesee County Land Bank.
A resident of the fourth ward who said she lives on Arlington Street named blight and public safety as her top priorities.
“Use it for blight and for policing, safety, safety, safety,” she said. “I’ve been living in this neighborhood for about 20 years. My house has been broken into, my house has been shot at. … I’m scared in this neighborhood.”
One woman who chose to remain anonymous said she thought clean-up jobs should go to formerly incarcerated individuals to support them as they transition back into society.
“They want to make some money, they can help,” she said.
She also suggested hosting community clean-ups and paying people $20 to bring a full garbage bag of trash and blight.
Seventh ward resident Becky Brickman said she would like to see money go towards playgrounds for children.
“My neighborhood, we have no place for our children to go and play,” she said. She told the council that there is a blighted piece of property in her neighborhood that she thinks could be turned into a playground or a basketball court.
Geraldine Redmond, the resident commissioner for the Flint Housing Commission, also said she wanted to see more places for children to play and upgrades to the current recreation facilities available.
“We don’t want to have to go way downtown to a park when we have housing right in our area,” she said. “It’s good when we have the big events to go somewhere, but on an everyday basis, kids should be able to go outside and play because that’s what’s missing today, the exercise.”
One speaker asked the council to consider funding the arts in the community. He said, “it’s easy to overlook the arts a lot of the time,” in planning and development.
“The arts, it’s a crucial aspect of … development and sustainability,” he said.
The council plans to hold a fourth meeting, but the date, time, and location for that meeting have yet to be announced.
Mayor Sheldon Neeley is also hosting community forums to hear from the public. The mayor will host the next ARPA fund meeting on Thursday, March 3, at the Accelerated Learning Academy from 6 to 7:30 p.m. He is also hosting a meeting on Tuesday, March 8, at the Insight Institute of Neurosurgery & Neuroscience (IINN) from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Anyone unable to attend the open sessions can send questions or comments one of four ways:
• Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
• 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.