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Why did $46 million of Flint water crisis funds go to economic development?

(WJRT)
Published: Feb. 18, 2020 at 7:48 PM EST
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(2/18/2020) - The Capitol Theatre, Ferris Wheel Building and Mott Community College Culinary Arts Teaching Facility were all funded by taxpayer money intended to help Flint recover from the water crisis.

At least that’s what the Flint Emergency Appropriations and Expenditures spreadsheet says. This is the report ABC12 first reported about in January.

"I’m gonna just smile because stuff like that like that makes me angry," one resident said.

Adding up the numbers -- $46,382,475 was spent on economic development in the city of Flint beginning in 2016, when the water crisis was declared an emergency.

The money was dished out to both the Michigan Strategic Fund and Michigan Economic Development Corp. and then they passed it on.

Going line by line …

The Michigan Strategic Fund gave $5.5 million to the Capitol Theatre Project. The reason listed: "support for Capitol Theatre renovation" and "creation of 82 jobs."

The report also shows the MSF gave $3 million to iSource Worldwide and SkyPoint Ventures for the "creation of 100 jobs," along with $5.7 million to C3 Venture Flint, LLC for the "creation of 380 jobs."

That totals $14.2 million creating 562 jobs.

"Where are these jobs posted?" one woman asked. "Because in the water crisis, I was looking for work. I’ve been working my job since the water crisis. Where were these jobs posted for? Who are they hiring? Where do these people live?"

State Sen. Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, echoed those concerns.

"I think trying to equate housing development or economic development and that somehow related to the daily lives of people in Flint that were suffering from lead exposure that they had no fault in their own, is disingenuous at best. And, it's disgusting when you really think about it. In trying to inflate a number to pretend you did more for the people of Flint that were wronged by former Governor Snyder and his team, is very troubling," Ananich said.

Once again, the he claimed former Gov. Rick Snyder's administration used their Flint Water Expenditures website to dupe people into thinking more was being done for Flint's recovery than Ananich said the former governor actually did.

"This is the point I made early on and throughout the time of Governor Snyder's term -- this is a public health crisis, not a PR crisis for his reputation. And that document I think, further shows it was all about PR for them," Ananich said.

So could this nearly $50 million set aside for economic development have instead helped replace pipes, provide bottled water or health services to Flint families affected by the water crisis?

"Obviously, $5.5 million can go a long way to replacing people's interior pipes, and myself and my colleagues in the House fought for money for that," Ananich said. "And, there should be some appropriated to do that, there should be money available to do that, that the city and others could apply for, but this is one of those cases where you can't take this pot and put it over here."

People who live in the community and suffered through being poisoned by their government asked me -- why was economic development even on anyone’s minds in 2016?

Spokesman Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the State Budget Office, said this was a decision made under the Snyder administration, explaining the water crisis was a direct hit to the city’s economy and the former administration was concerned.

"One of the things that they were talking about was, you know, home values in Flint have now gone down because of the water crisis, businesses don't want to locate here now because of the water crisis. So the water crisis caused lots of economic downturn for the city. So, you know, the thought was how do you help the city recover," he said.

The MEDC released a statement about the money it dispersed for economic development, saying in part: "Our commitment to empowering a community like Flint lies in our various community development initiatives, business development programs, infrastructure enhancement support, and our efforts to build a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem that fosters continued growth in the city and surrounding areas."

But at the end of the day, residents say they have bigger problems in their day-to-day life.

"Because the people who were affected most by the water crisis, still don’t come downtown, they don’t come here. They don’t go to the Ferris Wheel, they don’t support these businesses that are benefiting from their pain," one woman said.

The Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce also chimed in on the importance of revitalizing downtown Flint in the wake of the water emergency.

"As the redevelopment of downtown Flint continues, not only does this help to shift the narrative about the area, but also investment and spending will have a multiplier effect, contributing to prosperity throughout Flint and Genesee County," CEO Tim Herman said.

For a closer look at the spreadsheet showing where you tax dollars have been distributed, click on the 'Related Links' section of this story.