Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 1, 2013

Grand Traverse board divided on Civic Center South funding

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

— TRAVERSE CITY — The Grand Traverse County Commission approved a mid-year allocation of $25,000 for improvements at a south county park, but two board members voiced strong reservations.

Commission Chairman Herb Lemcool and Commissioner Sonny Wheelock voted against taking cash out of the county’s 2013 contingency fund for capital improvements at Civic Center South, located in Kingsley. Civic Center South backers frequently take funding requests to the full county board instead of going through the budget process that is followed by officials from other county parks and recreation programs, they said.

“I feel it should go through our parks and recreation budget,” Lemcool said during a recent committee meeting. “You should be vetting it through them, but also I have a problem with coming in at the middle of the year and asking for an appropriation.”

The contingency fund is comprised of $100,000 in the county’s general budget each year. Commissioners can vote to use the fund for emergencies, or any non-budgeted expenditures.

Civic Center South includes soccer fields, baseball diamonds, a disc golf course and an outdoor ice rink. It’s owned and managed by a board from Paradise, Mayfield and Fife Lake Townships, and Kingsley. Volunteers help maintain the park grounds.

County officials doled out more than $111,000 for capital improvements at the park since it opened in 2004. Former Kingsley Village Manager Adam Umbrasas asked county board members to renew a five-year pledge at $25,000 per year for future capital projects.

Plans to expand the park include building a driving range and additional sports fields on 20 acres recently donated to Civic Center South by a Kingsley family. Umbrasas estimated the cost of the improvements at $600,000, but he said that figure can be reduced through donations and volunteer contributions.

A former county commissioner joined Umbrasas in urging board members to approve the request.

“It feels a little funny sitting here instead of there,” Blair Township Trustee Larry Fleis said as he sat before his former board co-horts.

Fleis said he remembered being very impressed by a visit to Civic Center South when he was a county commissioner, and said he hoped the board continues to fund improvements at the park.

“If I was still a member of the Board of Commissioners, I would absolutely vote for it,” Fleis said. “And I’m thanking you in advance for your support of that.”

Wheelock said during the committee meeting he has never supported funding requests from Civic Center South.

“I always have believed it’s wrong for commissioners to come in and ask to make appropriations from contingency ... to any organization that hasn’t went through the budget process,” he said.

Commissioner Charlie Renny brought the request to the county board last month.

Civic Center South serves three townships and a village in the southern part of the county, an area that lacks recreation opportunities, Renny said.

“The south end of this county has been overlooked, period,” Renny said at the meeting.

The commission’s committee of the whole voted to allocate $25,000 from the county’s 2013 contingency fund to the park, with the condition that future Civic Center South requests go through the county’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

But that stipulation was removed during the full board meeting because Civic Center South is not owned by the county.

Renny said park officials will ask the county this summer to set aside additional money for the park during the county’s budgeting process instead of seeking contingency funds.

“It’s a need in this end of the county, and it’s very, very well supported,” Renny said. “When you go to this park, there are people there all the time.”