FLINT, MI — The City Council is set to adopt a general fund budget for Flint on Monday, June 7, but what it ends up looking like is open for debate.
A council committee has already recommended three amendments to the $71-million budget proposed by Mayor Sheldon Neeley and members have said they expect others to be presented Monday, potentially adding funding for police, senior citizen centers — even construction of a city-owned bottled water plant.
A vote to approve the budget as presented failed last month and some council members last week criticized Neeley for not adding at least part of $47 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government in his spending plan.
Neeley can veto any changes council attempts to make to the budget, and no changes in his budget proposal can take effect without two-thirds of the council voting to make them if they are vetoed, according to the city’s charter.
“This ain’t no fight. We invited the mayor (to council meetings). We (have had) his administration here,” 1st Ward Councilman Eric Mays said last week. “Call in (to the virtual meetings) and work these figures with us.”
Council has approved three amendments to the budget so far, adding $60,000 to Clerk Inez Brown’s office, $50,000 to the Flint Ethics and Accountability Board, and $200,0000 to the office of Ombudsperson Tané Dorsey.
In a statement to MLive-The Flint Journal, Neeley said the budget he proposed is “blessed but fragile” and said, “attempts to spend as if we have a large surplus further puts us in harm’s way.”
The spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 2 already calls for spending $13 million of Flint’s fund balance — or rainy day fund, leaving just a projected $2.1 million in reserves by the close of the next fiscal year.
“We have not shut off one water user in the city of Flint as we continue to search for a way to reduce the cost of this commodity,” his statement says. “We must focus first on providing safe, affordable water and protecting public safety dollars.”
The budget proposed by Neeley calls for public safety spending to account for 59 percent of general fund expenditures, including an overall decrease — from $29.8 million to $28 million — in funding for police.
But the mayor has identified public safety as a priority for the $47 million that’s arrived from the federal government from the American Rescue Plan signed earlier this year by President Joe Biden.
City officials have said the funds, once accepted by the council, can still be spent in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Budget amendments approved so far by the council call for funding to come from the city’s general fund, but Mays said Friday, June 4, that he expects the council to vote on a resolution to formally receive the COVID-19 relief money and to appropriate some of those funds.
In addition to the $47 million that’s already arrived in Flint, the city is set to receive an additional $47 million next year.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has said the relief funds can be used by local governments to provide assistance to households, small businesses, nonprofits, and industries impacted by COVID-19, and to support essential workers.
The funds can also be used to invest in infrastructure, including water, sewer, and broadband services.
Neeley warned Friday against City Council acting prematurely in attempting to budget and spend the federal funds.
“The residents of the city of Flint will feel the full benefits of all of these dollars, but any premature movement by the council could be financially devastating to this community,” the mayor said in his statement. “The council has a legal obligation to make sure all rules and guidelines for these dollars are propagated before engaging in spending. Any inappropriate spending or unqualified expenditures would have to be repaid and would have a devastating effect on city finances.”
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