Snyder meets with Weaver, defends water credit cutoff

Jonathan Oosting

Lansing – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder met with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver for more than an hour Tuesday at his Lansing office but said the state will not reverse its decision to stop providing water bill credits to customers at the end of February.

Snyder called the meeting with Weaver and Flint Chief Financial Officer David Sabuda “productive” and “constructive,” telling reporters it ran long because they discussed other city-related issues.

“I reaffirmed that we are following through on what we said we would do, which is basically (continuing the credits) until the water was deemed to be at acceptable standards,” Snyder said, noting the most recent six-month round of testing shows lead levels in Flint tap water are now below the federal action limit.

Weaver requested the meeting Monday in hopes she could convince the governor to reconsider termination of the water credit program. She left the Romney Building, which houses the governor’s office, while Snyder was talking to reporters.

Asked if Weaver would comment on the meeting, a city spokeswoman noted the mayor has scheduled a Wednesday afternoon news conference at Flint City Hall.

Weaver this week criticized the state for providing what she called “really short notice” it would end the credit program, which has provided state funding to reimburse Flint residents and business owners for a portion of their water bills dating back to April 2014.

Snyder’s office disputed the “short notice” characterization Tuesday, saying it first told city officials on Dec. 12 that funding for the program would likely end one month after federal water standards were met.

While top Snyder adviser Rich Baird formally notified Sabuda the program would end in a Feb. 7 letter, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality publicly discussed that timeline in a Jan. 24 press release.

An email reviewed by The Detroit News shows Baird personally forwarded the DEQ release to Weaver on Jan. 24 and emphasized several points, including pending conclusion of the credit program.

But critics have called the decision to cut off the credit program premature. Sabuda said Monday it may be difficult for the city to pay their own bills if residents refuse to pay for water they still do not trust.

“When’s the water good? It’s when you don’t have a filter at the end of your tap,” Sabuda said.

Snyder acknowledged there remains a “trust issue” in Flint, where residents may not be convinced by government test results from a single six-month period after their initial water quality complaints were ignored.

“That’s one of the difficult things in this,” Snyder said. But he noted that independent experts, including Virginia Tech Professor Mark Edwards, now agree that Flint water is safe to drink with a filter.

The state plans to continue providing free water filters, cartridges and bottled water in Flint as part of what Snyder called a “transitional” approach to improving quality.

The majority of Tuesday’s meeting with Weaver was spent discussing other Flint-related issues beyond the water credit program, the governor said.

“It wasn’t about just one issue and one item of different perceptions and views, it was really on how we could work together and continue to see the recovery of Flint happen, everything from lead service line replacement to how do we bring more jobs to Flint.”