By Tom Travis
In Monday’s meeting City Council approved their version of a budget to spend the remaining $60 million of the $94 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Back in June the Mayor and his administration had presented their version of an ARPA allocation budget. The council has not approved Mayor Neeley’s ARPA allocation budget.
The council’s ARPA Allocation Plan includes $18.1 million in Community Grant categories, including $5 million for Home Repair and Improvement, $2.5 million for Youth Job Training, $2.8 million for Street lighting, $2 million for Health Care Access. The full ARPA Allocation Plan can be viewed below.
The council’s plan was developed by an ad hoc committee made up of Councilpersons Ladel Lewis (Ward 2) and Judy Priestley (Ward 4). The two were appointed by then-Council President Eric Mays (Ward 1) in January 2022. Since then Lewis and Priestley have met for four hours each week for the last three months to discuss the ARPA allocation, according to Priestley.
The council had two ARPA allocation budgets to consider. Two ARPA budgets to allocate millions in federal funds have been proposed: one from Mayor Neeley’s administration and one from City Council.
Each budget offered stark contrast with the other, Neeley’s budget allocating most of the ARPA funds to local government, and the City Council’s budget focused more on allocating to people through the $18.1 million in community grants.
Priestley explained there will be an application process for the public to apply for the community grants. A yet-to-be developed grant committee will be set up. Priestley and Lewis said they hope to have at least one representative from each ward on the committee.
Anyone will be allowed to apply if they are able to receive federal funds. For example, if someone owes the federal government they will not be able to receive the funds, Priestley explained. She also explained they hope for the applications to be submitted “blindly” meaning that as much as possible the name of individuals and organizations and anything that might identify who or what is applying for the funds can not be identified.
Priestley told EVM that the Ruth Mott Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint have been working with the [Mayor’s] administration for months. “We [Lewis and Priestley] were brought in on the tail end to develop the process of applications for ARPA allocation,” Priestley said.
Local activist and pastor Monica Villarreal implored the council, during public speaking, to approve the Council’s ARPA Allocation Plan.
“Council has had 18 months to put in some thought on how the ARPA funds would be allocated,” she said. “If you do not know what your residents in this city need from these ARPA dollars you’re out of touch with this community.”
Holding up a copy of the Council’s ARPA Fund Allocation plan she blasted, “This is not the Mayor’s budget.”
“I’ve engaged with a lot of community members and I’ve heard the same things you have heard. We want our roofs fixed, we want our porches fixed, we want plumbing.”
Referring to stacks of ARPA fund request forms, Councilperson Eric Mays (Ward 1) has been bringing to council for weeks and sitting in front of him, Villareal said she’s looked at some of those applications. She said many of those forms request funds for roof repairs.
“People want a safe, clean city. People want opportunities for youth and young people,” she said. “We’ve been through two major health crises and these ARPA dollars are here because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Holding up the Council’s ARPA Fund Allocation budget again, she asked the council, “Is this budget perfect? No, it’s not perfect. But this budget is negotiated between council, the public and the administration. That is democracy. The greatest investment that you all can make today is to invest in the people of this city and the organization that serves the public. This plan, the Council’s ARPA Fund Allocation, calls for $18 million to go direct services to the public.
“ARPA was never a government bailout. It was never intended to just bail out our government. It was intended for the people,” Villareal said.
During council discussion, Council President Dennis Pfeiffer (Ward 8) said the Council’s ARPA Allocation Plan is a “starting point” and added he did not like the Mayor’s ARPA Budget.
Mother Sandra Jones, speaking to the council, reported that she had attended the Genesee County Commissioners’ meeting and told the council the commission took only 30 minutes to approve $3.5 million to be allocated to Buick City remediation.
“I’m having a problem understanding why this council cannot do the same thing.” Jones said, adding that the commissioners had disagreements but they were able to discuss their differences without “talking about anybody or each other …. I implore this council to deal with the facts only and let’s not talk about each other.” Many audience members applauded as Jones spoke.
Banner phot0: From left to right, Councilpersons Jerri Winfrey-Carter (Ward 5), Tonya Burns (Ward 6), Dennis Pfeiffer (Ward 8) and Judy Priestley (Ward 4). Photo by Tom Travis.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.