By Meghan Christian
Beginning with the water crisis, Mayor Karen Weaver acknowledged Tuesday night in her second State of the City address at City Hall that there is still work to be done, but said evidence suggests the city is moving in the right direction.
She also repeated her recommendation that the city continue to use the Great Lakes Water Authority as its water source. According to Weaver, this recommendation would “avoid a projected 55 percent water rate increase and insure the City of Flint gets millions of dollars to continue replacing lead tainted pipes, make the much needed repairs to our damaged infrastructure, so we are able to deliver quality water to our residents.”
Earlier in the day, U.S. District Court Judge David had ordered the Flint City Council, which had balked at Weaver’s recommendation, to decide by Monday whether to join the GLWA. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), agencies deeply involved in the water crisis, have recommended stay with the GLWA.
But the city council has wanted more time and more information, particularly on issues of potential water rate implications for residents if the city signs on to a 30-year contract as proposed.
Weaver also addressed comments on the financial status of the city, two major new corporate investments, public safety and blight.
“While we have more work to do, I want you all to know that we have made significant progress over this past year,” Weaver said.
She summarized the work of the CORE teams which have been going door to door for months with filters, cartridges and information about water crisis resources, as well as work by four contractors in the FAST Start program that have replaced nearly 5,000 pipes in the city so far. According to Weaver, the goal is to reach 6,000 by the end of the year.
Weaver then addressed residents’ concerns that their health and their opinions have not been taken into consideration during the water crisis.
“We know that we have to be careful to take steps that are based on science and supported by medical and the public health community. Most importantly, before we say that we have moved from crisis to recovery, we will be sure to take into consideration the voice of the residents,” Weaver said.
According to Weaver, the overall quality of the city’s water continues to improve in relation to lead, but the water system as a whole needs to be considered. Because of this, Weaver urged residents to continue using bottled water and water filters.
“So while I urge residents to continue to keep using bottled water and filters, at least until we get all of the pipes, all of these lead-tainted pipes removed and the FAST Start program is complete, I assure you that we are paying close attention to the research that is being done to monitor the safety of the filters as well,” Weaver said.
Weaver highlighted two key companies that have made plans to invest in Flint: Lear Corporation and General Motors. She said the two are expected to bring “hundreds of new, good-paying jobs” to residents. Weaver also discussed the city’s general fund, stating that it has a “healthy fund balance for the first time in years.”
Knowing that public safety is a prime concern of residents, Weaver stressed that it is also the top priority of both the Fire Dept. and the City of Flint Police. Weaver also addressed concerns about the number of police officers in the city.
“We know we need more officers,” Weaver said, “and we are working to make that happen, but the officers that we have, the ones that we have, are hard-working and dedicated to serving this city.”
To address the issue of blight in Flint, Weaver referenced a grant that the City of Flint contributed last month, along with funds from the Michigan State Housing Authority, Genesee County and a private donor to the Genesee County Land Bank to remove blight in three areas of the city.
“The planned blight elimination work includes demolition of five vacant and fire damaged apartment buildings, three commercial buildings, and the removal of approximately 30 abandoned mobile homes,” Weaver said.
Weaver ended her address with a request to the residents of Flint.
“I ask that you continue to raise your voice; to hold all of us, your elected officials, accountable; and stand united with me as we look forward to the rebirth, the rebuilding, and the rejuv of Flint,” Weaver said.
To view a full transcript of the address, go to cityofflint.com.
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.