State owes Flint more help
The state needs to help the people of Flint, led by Mayor Karen Weaver, break down the Herculean undertaking that is solving the Flint water crisis into strategic and specific action steps.
Let’s start with water bills. A study shows that Flint residents pay more than any other customers in the nation’s 500 largest community water systems. Flint residents are still being charged for water, and the possibility of shutoffs looms. A petition already has more than 104,000 supporters.
Flint’s Water and Sewer Fund relies heavily on bill collections, but with mounting debt and fewer collections, the city’s ability to provide these services is further jeopardized. The former Flint city administrator explained that the city needs at least $60 million to keep operating, and that the fund will likely be insolvent by the third quarter of 2016 without help. The city needs to provide the state and the public with more information about the full extent of the fund’s financial woes. This is a problem that the people of Flint should not have to bear.
The state’s partial relief is unacceptable. The state needs to pay Flint’s full water bill until the water is actually safe to drink, and the city must cease collections for that entire time.
Gov. Rick Snyder announced a $3 million water payment relief plan as a part of the $195.4 million he has budgeted for Flint in the next fiscal year. It applies to the water, but not the sewage, portion of the bill.
This plan introduces an unnecessary administrative burden in calculating credits, which will undoubtedly lead to contention between residents and city employees, who are mainly Flint residents. Snyder’s request of $30 million, made when the city says it needs at least $60 million, shows a distressing lack of communication. And having this funding take effect next fiscal year may be too little too late.
To speed up some funding, on Feb. 4, the Senate passed a $30 million appropriation effective this fiscal year, S.B. 136, which passed the Legislature on Feb. 23. While Snyder needs to sign this appropriation quickly, the city has already said that $30 million is insufficient, and it’s well past time for the state to listen. The state needs to pay the full cost of Flint’s water bill, not just a portion of it.
While many aspects of the crisis will take years to solve, shouldering the full burden of the Water and Sewer Fund is something that the state can and should do right now. If we can get this one aspect of the crisis under control, it will relieve some of the stress, anxiety and fear that the people of Flint face. It’s time to provide the residents of Flint with more relief, and to start building a comprehensive and cohesive appropriations strategy.
Liz Lamoste is co-coordinator of From Ferndale to Flint.