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Flint city council votes to stop issuing tax liens for unpaid water bills

May 18, 2017

The Flint City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution that puts a year-long moratorium on the city’s policy of placing tax liens on properties with unpaid water bills.

Council President Kerry Nelson said he had received numerous calls to his office pleading for the move. Multiple city council members mentioned that some city residents struggle to afford Flint’s high water rates, and other residents were refusing to pay for water that could not be used without a filter.

“Too numerous to tell you how many, the calls have been coming in,” Nelson said. “Enough is enough. I’ve made up my mind tonight to do what I need to do for the people who elected me.”

Approximately eight thousand Flint residents with delinquent water bills had recently received notices from the city that tax liens could be placed on their property if the account balance had not been paid by May 19.

Barring a veto of the council resolution by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, those residents don’t have to worry about tax liens for now.

The resolution states that no water account with a delinquent balance dating back to April 2014 will have liens placed on the corresponding property. Councilman Eric Mays abstained from voting on the resolution; the remaining eight council members all voted in favor. 

Nelson says the city attorney and Chief Financial Officer called his office urging him not to pass a moratorium on placing liens on properties because the city needs the revenue.

“It’s time out for that,” Nelson said. “The people of this city are suffering. They’re troubled, they’re at their wits' end.... We’ve got to do what we can do. I’ve done what I can do.”

Multiple city council members and the city attorney said they had not read the resolution until it was read aloud at Wednesday’s meeting prior to a vote. There was immediately an amendment to the resolution to fix small syntactical errors. Mays says he abstained because he never had a chance to review the resolution and had unanswered legal questions about it.

“The ordinance can’t go back retroactively, and pull liens off of houses that have already been lost. That was the main reason.” Mays said.

Councilman Scott Kincaid says despite having no time to review the resolution personally or by the city attorney, he doesn’t foresee any legal problems.

"I'm sure that the attorney's office is going to look and see whether or not we had violated some law. I mean that's her job,” Kincaid said. “If the administration doesn't support this they're going to find a reason. And that's just the process."

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver responded to recent calls to stop the liens after receiving a letter from the ACLU of Michigan and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational fund that was also sent to city council members.

Weaver said in May 16 press release that her hands were tied by a city ordinance.

“The city of Flint is legally obligated to comply with some city and state statutes that are not suitable or appropriate when you consider the extenuating circumstances we are still facing,” Weaver said.