The struggling industrial city has shelled out $6,000 over the past year to a pawn shop owned by the mayor's wife to buy at least 200 ceremonial keys to the city as gifts.

The purchases were detailed in records obtained by WJRT-TV through the Freedom of Information Act.

Flint Mayor Don Williamson said the keys are a "good investment" and part of a tradition for many cities. He said the price at Patsy Lou Williamson's shop in Genesee County's Mount Morris Township was cheap.

"If you notice, I take no salary," Williamson said. "I do have an expense account, and they do go to the residents of the city of Flint."

Two checks dated Jan. 31 and June 19 were signed by the city treasurer and director of finance. The TV station reports the checks each were $3,000, the maximum payment allowed without City Council approval.

Word of the spending on keys comes amid tight budget times for the city that led to police layoffs over the summer. The Flint region in September had the highest seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in the state, at 10.8 percent.

"That seems like wasteful spending, especially when we're in such a budget crunch," said Councilwoman Sandy Hill.

Williamson has been locked in a six-month budged battle with some on the council.

"This is another way of ... robbing the city, simple as that," said Councilwoman Jackie Poplar.