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April 10, 2014

Trust fund vote could be on November ballot

TRAVERSE CITY — The debate over tapping the Brown Bridge Trust Fund for city park improvements may yet reach voters this year

A committee of three commissioners agreed they will make a recommendation to the full commission in May and the group now tilts toward a November ballot question. Committee Chairman Gary Howe prefers a go-slow approach to identify park projects and raise public support. But that would push a vote to 2015, a date too late for most commissioners.

“We are putting together a proposal; we don’t have to sell the voters anything,” Mayor Michael Estes said. “This is no monumental task. We plead our case and let the voters decide.”

Royalty payments from oil and gas leases at the Brown Bridge Quiet Area must go to the trust fund under the Traverse City Charter and can’t be spent without voter approval. Interest generated by the fund supports general city operations.

City commissioners originally anticipated going to voters in 2013 to cap the $13 million trust fund at $12.5 million and divert $500,000, plus five years of royalty payments, toward city parks. Royalty payments over the last five years have ranged from a low of $264,000 to a high of $625,000, according to records provided by the city treasurer.

Committee members agreed to work with ballot language proposed by Estes that would simplify the funding formula by making it a straight $3 million withdrawn over five years. To qualify for funding, parks projects would require a match from outside agencies.

Howe said he’s not committed to presenting Estes’ proposed language to the full city commission. He likes the idea of requiring some sort of outside matching funds for specific projects, but said obtaining grants takes time and five years may not be enough to spend all $3 million, if that’s the commission’s agreed-upon number.

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