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State has spent at least $3.6 million to pay workers in Flint's water crisis

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Major John Keelean (left) carries a case of bottled water for a Flint man for the pick up entrance at Flint Fire Station #1 in January 2016.

Michigan has spent millions to pay officials and government workers scrambling to provide water, filters and other resources after lead contaminated Flint's water, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

Data from the State Budget Office show the state spent more than $3.6 million to pay state workers through mid-April for such things as buying and shipping water, informing Flint residents and media about response efforts, sampling water, testing animals for lead exposure and tending to a warehouse of supplies in a city still reeling from lead contamination.

The state has committed more than $70 million to the crisis so far. Only a portion of that has been actually spent, according to the state's expenditure tracking documents.

A revenue-estimating conference Tuesday in Lansing will help determine how much more state money will be available for Flint. State revenues are lower than expected.

"What you’ll see over the next is the administration and the legislature working together to figure out how to re-prioritize that spending. I do think that’s you’ll see Flint remain a top priority but we’ll just have to see how those discussions play out," State Budget Office spokesman Kurt Weiss said.

Officials' decision to not apply corrosion control allowed water to scrape lead from the pipes after the city switched its water supply to the Flint River in 2014 to cut costs. That resulted in the contamination of the water supply, elevated blood lead levels for some people in the city, and may have contributed to the deaths of at least 12 people from Legionnaires' disease.

State records show Michigan paid some 583 people by the end of February to work on the Flint water crisis in some capacity, compared to about 200 people now. But those numbers could be inaccurate. And the cost could be much higher and will rise as the state response continues.

Payroll costs are likely higher because departments weren't always tracking labor hours and costs related to the crisis.

For example, the document Weiss provided shows the Department of Environmental Quality spent $134,662 on labor related to the crisis. But a spokeswoman with the Department of Environmental Quality, Melanie Brown, said it spent $2.1 million.

"We are still working with them to get their coding fixed," Weiss said. "It's not completely accurate yet."

Weiss said state workers were more focused on trying to do what they can for Flint residents rather than "making sure all our beans were being counted correctly."

Overall, the state has spent more than $22.6 million on the Flint water crisis. About $63 million more will be spent. The Legislature is considering another $128 million in supplemental aid for the city, while Gov. Rick Snyder has called for $230 million to go to Flint.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, said life isn't much different in the city.

"I can't speak to what they're spending it on," Ananich said. "But I can tell you people in Flint don't feel much different."

Ananich said people are angry and want lead pipes to be replaced as soon as possible. That is something that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Snyder have butted heads on as Snyder urged caution. But the city has not yet spent the $2 million it has to replace pipes at about 400 homes.

According to a spokeswoman with the Flint Mayor's office, Kristin Moore, the city has already applied about $29 million to residents' accounts for bills they paid between April 2014 and March 2016.

Ron Leix, a spokesman with the state police said in an email that his records show "every Flint water customer home and apartment has been visited with nearly 90 percent confirmed to have a filter at homes and nearly 100 percent confirmed to have a filter at apartments."

Leix said the state distributed more than 1 million cases of water, and thousands of filters and testing kits. He said they're still working to keep track of water supplies, go door-to-door and staff water resource centers in Flint.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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