By Tom Travis
Mayor Sheldon Neeley presented a balanced 2021 budget to the Flint City Council Monday that calls for total revenues of $56.9 million and total expenditures of $71.3 million, using city savings from its previous general fund balance to make up the difference.
Neeley vowed to stop budget practices used by previous administrations and emergency managers. He vowed it would not include layoffs of city employees, and would stop transfers from the water and sewer fund in order to balance the budget. Neeley also confirmed his administration is committed to funding the retirement fund for city employees.
Neeley sat at a table before the city council with City Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Amanda Trujillo and City Administrator Clyde Edwards.
While the Special City Council meeting lasted more than an hour and half. Mayor Neeley only took 15 minutes and with 15 powerpoint slides. The council received the budget on a 6-2 vote without comment. Council President Monica Galloway (7th Ward) and Eric Mays (1st Ward) voted no. Councilperson Eva Worthing (9th Ward) was not present.
The timeline for the budget approval calls for the council to review details of the budget for 10 days. The city council will then schedule a budget hearing within 10 to 20 days. The budget needs to be adopted by city council in 3 months, by June 1.
Key elements of the budget were summarized in a statement from City of Flint offices immediately following Neeley’s presentation.
“After years of declining rate of investment into the retiree pension system, the City of Flint will increase its annual contribution. The City of Flint is currently paying just $24 million of a $39 million annual obligation. The proposed 2021 budget increases the city’s annual investment by $10 million, and in the following year increases the investment again to fully meet the $39 million obligation.
“Stops past practice of transferring millions of dollars from the Flint Water & Sewer Fund to boost general fund dollars. This long standing budgeting shell game is in violation of the Charter, Sec. 7-106(B).
“Re-establishes the City of Flint Civil Service Commission, a previously unfulfilled mandate of the Flint Charter, Sec. 5-101.
The balanced budget shows total revenues of $56.9 million and total expenditures of $71.3 million, using city savings from its previous general fund balance to make up the difference. “
Neeley described the budget as “cerebral.” Explaining later, he said “by a cerebral budget we mean, We don’t act on chaos or panic. We’re not going to do knee jerk reaction which is to layoff and cut. We are calm in our approach. We are thoughtful in our approach. We were calculating and a lot of critical thinking to get to this particular place.”
“We are not a community of victims. We are a community of victors,” he said.
Neeley said for more than a decade the water and sewer fund had been raided in order to beef up the general fund.
“We will no longer be taking funds out of the water and sewer fund to shore up our general fund,” Neeley stated, adding, “That’s pursuant to law, that’s pursuant to good practices, and that’s pursuant to what the people really want.”
Neeley said over the last year $2.5 million was taken from the water fund to shore up the general fund.
“This long standing practice of previous administrations and emergency managers will stop,” Neeley assured the city council. He described the practice as “a ‘shell game,’ when you take money from one place and put it in another place.”
Later, in a conference room press conference, asked about “zero layoffs,” Neeley clarified that an “operational audit” had been conducted and that as a result his administration had put people into places that may better match their skill set.
“By having zero layoffs we will not diminish the level of service to our residents,” he said. “This budget has its challenges but working hard, we can get it done. We must maintain our level of services to the city of Flint.”
Neeley stated that it was a “real option” for the city to lay off between 40 and 140 city employees. But he said his administration will not do that.
Multiple times, Neeley repeated, “Flint is too lean to cut.”
“The city must use savings to balance the budget,” he said. “I use the word savings in a very loose term. Because the fund balance for the budget surplus that is talked about of $20 or $22.5 million is really “an illusion.”
“What happened is that the city borrowed money to get part of that surplus. In addition, it did not pay into its commitments, and it took money from other funds for another part to create the surplus figure,” he said.
Neeley stated, “It was not a real savings. It was really a lack in obligations or a lack of critical thinking as we try to move forward and try to provide critical services for the city of Flint.”
In concluding remarks, Neeley said, “We have to have the ability to attract new talent to this city. We will do so with an optimistic eye, future thinking and out of the box thinking. And we have a plan.”
Neeley said when he talks to people around the city concerning the budget outlook, “I say it’s like ‘threading a needle by moonlight’.”
“The good news is that I have thread, I have a needle and I have moonlight. It’s up to you [city council] if you want to play a part in it. Who’s the thread? Who’s the needle? And who’s the moonlight?”
Neeley implored the city council, “I need your help. I need your partnership. I need every working man and woman inside the city of Flint to continue to provide the services that the residents of the city of Flint deserve.”
The budget presentation of 15 powerpoint slides can be viewed here on the city of Flint’s website. (www.cityofflint.com/wp-content/uploads/2020-21-budget-presentation-3-2-2020-Final-1.pdf)
The proposed 2021 budget in detail can be viewed here on the city of Flint’s website.
Mays ejected at end of the meeting
The Special City Council meeting did not go without an outburst of yelling and arguing. Council President Monica Galloway tried to keep order as Eric Mays (1st Ward) argued about procedural issues. After the mayor had left and most of the administration had returned downstairs to their offices the arguing began.
The arguing wasn’t about the budget nor the presentation of the mayor. But instead it was about Mays having called council members and others names. Galloway asked Mays to not call out names.
Mays objected and said Galloway was taking away his freedom of speech. Galloway called forward Police Officer Bill Metcalfe to have Mays escorted out. However, the meeting adjourned in the midst of Mays yelling at Galloway.
Mays continued yelling out of council chambers and into the 3rd floor hallway yelling at full voice. Mays yelled “damn you” to Galloway multiple times sometimes right to her face. At one point the City Clerk Administrative Assistant, Davina Donahue, came and walked beside Galloway to the elevator. While Officer Metcalfe kept distance between Mays and Galloway. Mays continued to yell at Galloway “damn you for taking away my freedom of speech.”
The next city council meeting will be another Special City Council meeting to be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 4. The city council committees will meet immediately following the Special City Council meeting.
EVM Assistant Editor and City Hall Beat reporter Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.