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Today is the deadline for Flint council to approve a budget

Flickr user Michigan Municipal League/Flickr

Flint city council members are expected to meet this evening to finalize the city’s annual budget.

The city is facing declining revenues and increasing retiree pension costs. But it’s also expecting an influx of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan, which will prevent some of the possible cuts.

The city charter requires the city council to approve a budget plan by today, though last year the council missed that deadline and only narrowly avoided a government shutdown.

Overall, the budget proposalfrom Mayor Sheldon Neely calls for spending of close to $65 million dollars in the city’s general fund, about $7 million less than the current year. The proposal would maintain city staff at current levels, but it would cut spending on supplies and reduce contributions to the city’s pension fund. At a budget meeting last week, council members considered a number of amendments, including one to cut supply costs even further.

Councilmember Tonya Burns initially pushed back on the idea

“Most departments are understaffed. Most of them are,” Burns says. “Yes we do have to tighten our budget, but we have to figure out where we’re going to cut it at.”

And, despite the revenue shortfalls, council members wanted to increase funding in certain areas, including blight cleanup and policing.

“In my opinion, the community needs more in the area of public safety,” said councilmember Eric Mays. “They needed more yesterday. They needed more the day before, and the year before. It didn’t come to us in the [mayor’s] budget proposal.”

The mayor’s budget plan calls for adding three civilian positions in the police department, and cutting two officer positions.

Overall, the mayor’s initial budget plan would add more than 20 positions.

But city council members have offered a number of amendments to that plan so far. One amendment would have reduced the number of new positions in the mayor’s office, but that amendment failed on Tuesday.

The city has been able to avoid deeper cuts in the budget because of an expected influx of cash from the American Rescue Plan Act. Flint is expecting to receive more than $90 million total from ARPA. Most of that money has yet to be allocated, though council members voted last week to use $8,145,000 to plug a budget shortfall in the general fund.

The longer-term financial outlook for the city is more dire, city staff have warned. The city is expecting to continue to see declining revenue, and increasing costs for retiree pensions. Pension costs are now the city’s No. 1 expense, according to the mayor’s budget proposal, and those pension costs are expected to balloon to more than $40 million per year in the coming years.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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