By Tammy Beckett
Neither bagging or raking leaves into the street are ideal solutions for one of autumn’s onerous chores, two representatives from the Flint River Watershed Coalition (FRWC) told residents of the College Cultural Neighborhood Association (CCNA) at their regular meeting in January.
In the past Flint has allowed people to rake leaves into the street, but that is no longer the policy. Instead, leaves must be bagged and picked up once per week in the fall. Some citizens have been advocating for the return to street raking.
But Sarah Scheitler and Anna Darzi of the FRWC said science points clearly to serious issues created when leaves are put into drains or swept into creeks and rivers.
The better solution, Scheitler said, is for residents to rake leaves into their yards, composted, or mulched. Mulched leaves are the most beneficial for those who like a green lawn in that the lawns can obtain the necessary sunlight they need. Over time, mulched leaves help build up the top soil.
In short, because leaves are natural and good for the environment, it is helpful to wildlife if they are mulched or remain on the lawns. The reason that leaves in drains is that there is far too much of it. Rather than just the leaves of trees that are nearby the waterway falling into it, there are the nutrients from the entire city, which overloads the system.
Green lawns support very little wildlife, so keeping leaves or mulched leaves on lawns is much more preferable and hospitable for wildlife. Additionally, most grass has very shallow root systems, so most of the rain washes off into the street and drains. The Flint River Watershed Coalition encourages people to plant native species rather than grass. White clover is a good ground covering as are mosses, flowers, and native Michigan grasses.
Explaining why leaf raking into the street is not a good idea, Scheitler noted that sewer water goes to a processing plant before it is released into the Flint River. But “drains in the streets are directly discharged into the river or waterway.”
Gilkey Creek receives the drain water from the CCN. This is already a problem when trash, oil, chemical, or other materials commonly dumped into the creek mix with the water. But, she said, yard waste and leaves create a special problem.
Piled leaves and debris can cause “flooding because of blockages,” Darzi explained. Additionally, leaves disintegrate quickly so when there is precipitation, and nutrients are dispersed directly into the water system. These nutrients, including phosphorus and nitrogen, deplete the oxygen and harm wildlife because they are generally found on land rather than in the water. This leads to less aquatic life like fish and also fewer bugs and plants. “You end up having a less healthy water system when you add more organic matter toward the system,” Darzi said.
Within within 24 hours of a rainfall, research suggests, most nitrogen goes into the drain and ends up in the water system.
Residents who dispose of their leaves into Gilkey Creek are polluting, the FRWC spokeswomen pointed out, and subject to fines. Illegal dumping can be reported to the Environmental Protection Agency at (810) 766-7210, Flint River Watershed Coalition at (810) 767-6490, or email@example.com who will direct the complaint to the appropriate entity.
For residents who have bagged leaves in their front yards in spite of the pick-up having ended two month ago, Scheitler recommended contacting the Flint Blight Division or the Department of Public works or possibly the Ombudsperson (see below). Residents are responsible for easements as well as their own yards. Neighborhood safety officers (NSOs) can also write citations. Residents should contact Sergeant Reed, the direct supervisor for the NSOs, at (810) 237-6892 on any blight issue.
Communication on leaf pick-up times has been unreliable, residents complained. Also, pick-up times do not align with when the bulk of the leaves fall. CCNA President Mike Keeler stated many of the trees along the streets are “the wrong kind of trees,” which drop their leaves late in the year after pick-up has ceased. Residents can contact the Department of Public Works (810) 766-7135 ext. 2605 or Keep Genesee County Beautiful (810) 767-9696 to acquire leaf bags.
Flint City Councilperson Kate Fields, (4th Ward) reported on the City financial audit
Fields reported the Flint financial audit was completed by independent auditor Rehmann and delivered to the city Dec. 27, 2019. It covered July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, under the previous city administration.
She said the next audit will also include six months of the previous administration’s activities. The next audit will only reflect about six months of corrections because, Fields said, “there were no documents turned over” to Mayor Sheldon Neeley after he defeated Karen Weaver in November, and “there was no transition.” The document is available on the city’s website https://www.cityofflint.com/2019/12/31/city-of-flint-completes-financial-audit-on-time/.
Fields said auditors detailed 11 suggestions that the city should implement. For example, the city should create a broad-based hotline that anyone could access, and developing a policy for how to give away foreclosed properties.
The city has been given 30 days to submit a corrective action plan to address the issues detailed by the audit. She said there were 12 categories including 61 items of “material weakness.”
Seven of the categories are the responsibility of the council to correct; five are administrative concerns. In Field’s opinion the auditors were very thorough—more so than previous audits she had seen.
She said one big issue was that the previous administration gave out P-Cards to numerous individuals “without oversight or requirements for receipts.” Individual approved their own cards. In the last six months P-cards contributed to $11 million in spending.
But there is a policy in place regarding the P-Cards, and those who used them for personal use or other purposes that are not specifically allowed in the policy are in violation and therefore liable for reimbursement. They are also responsible for any legal fees involved.
Fields said even though it’s more expensive than the regular audit, she plans to recommend a forensic audit for the P-Cards, because of what she called “rampant abuse,” and other strategic items such as contractors for which competitive bid documentation has not been available. Forensic audits are much more detailed and indicate exactly who did what and when.
Neither the finance chair nor the president of Flint City Council mentioned steps to creating the corrective action plan or coordinating efforts for those categories that fall to the council, Fields said. However, Mayor Neeley’s office is working on the categories under its purview. Fields said she is confident the administration will ensure the city meets its requirements and will share the results with the council.
Tané Dorsey, City of Flint Ombudsperson, introduces herself and the office
Dorsey began her tenure as ombudsperson Oct. 28, 2019. She said she anticipates hiring two assistants soon, so the there will always be somebody to answer the phone. She is the liaison between residents and city government. For example she helped resolve a complaint from a 14-month resident whose $89 per month water bill had been estimated for the duration his residency. After the new Vanguard meter was installed, the resident received a bill for $2,400. She mediated between the resident and the water department, with her goal to determine a reasonable solution for all parties concerned.
The city charter grants broad jurisdiction for her office, she said, with the ability to look into issues with city council, the mayor’s administration, and city agencies such police, fire, and water.
She spent seven years in the ombudsman’s office for the State of Michigan in Lansing investigating complaints against the Department of Corrections, and said she has traveled the state extensively, visiting prisons. She is “well-versed in asking difficult questions” she said.
Dorsey and her staff will assist the newly created 11-member Ethics and Accountability Board and re-instituted Human Relations Commission, neither of which has a budget. She, however, has a $250,000 budget per the city charter and pledged “to be creative” in assisting those boards with their needs.
Responding to a question, Dorsey stated individuals could file a complaint to her office about misbehavior of City officials or council members. She said she would then investigate and proceed with whatever remedies the city charter indicated. Dorsey stated she could not speak to any alleged misconduct investigations currently underway. However, once an individual files a complaint, she would apprise that individual of how the investigation was proceeding.
MCC seeks to issue bonds
Mott Community College Communications Specialist Dawn Hibbard offered details of a bond proposal that will be on the March 10, 2020 ballot to fund capital improvements and renovation projects for MCC. The previous bond proposal was for .82 mills where as this one will be for .79, a 3-mills reduction.
Mott has used previous bond funds for the acquisition and renovation of Woodside Church and the new MCC Culinary Arts Institute in downtown Flint. Among the items hoped for if the bond passes are updating and renovating the Prahl Center, adding more cameras and better lighting on the campus.
If this proposal is not approved, the current levy will expire, and Mott will no longer have bonding authority to fund improvements to its infrastructure. If the proposal is approved, a homeowner with a residence valued between $80,000 and $140,000 could expect to pay about $55.30 per year.
Realty report: Things looking good in the CCN
Mark Fisher of Weichert Grant Hamady Realty, provided a real estate report for the neighborhood, which is bounded by Robert T Longway, Dort Highway, I-69, and Burroughs Park. According to Fisher the current inventory of 20 houses for sale in the last two months is normal, though down from 30 to 35 in the last inventory count. The average price per square foot for homes sold in the past two months is $58–the highest being $92 and the lowest $29–compared to an average of $49 one year ago. The number of distressed or repossessed homes has remained steady at zero or one since September 2018.
Census alert: Wards may change
Mike Keeler, CCNA president, reminded members that lines for US House of Representative as well as City Council Lines will be adjusted following the 2020 census.
Flint had about 100,000 people in 2010, and now has an estimated 80,000, Keeler said. The 7th Ward may need to “donate” approximately 3,000 people to a different ward in the post-census realignment. Keeler stated he was going to attend the meetings where these lines will be drawn and “demand that they do not cut our neighborhood in half—that our neighborhood stays intact as a whole neighborhood.” Keeler stated he would keep everyone apprised of the changes.
EVM Staff Writer Tammy Beckett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .