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April 2, 2014

Brown Bridge Trust Fund vote could hold until 2015

TRAVERSE CITY — A city committee looking at tapping the Brown Bridge Trust Fund to improve city parks may delay a decision for another year.

City commissioners charged the committee in January with developing a ballot proposal for November that would divert about $2 million from the trust fund for a variety of park improvements. The committee met once in February and both City Manager Jered Ottenwess and Commissioner Gary Howe, who chairs the committee, recommended postponing a ballot question for another year.

“It’s just difficult to really get a concrete question in place that would pass and give us what we need,” Howe said. “I’m more of a proponent of, let’s pick some actual projects that we put on there, and I don’t think we can make those decisions in a two-month span.”

The committee will meet April 7 at 2:30 p.m. in the second floor conference room of the Governmental Center to make a formal recommendation to the commission on when to go to voters, Howe said. The committee of three commissioners didn’t make a decision in February because Mayor Michael Estes was absent.

But Commissioner Ross Richardson said statements by committee members and city staff indicates the decision has already been made.

“I’m not sure we need to have a referendum on it this year, but that’s an issue for the city commission to decide, not one city commissioner and the city manager,” Richardson said.

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. The fund generates about $250,000 annually in interest to fund general city operations.

City commissioners originally anticipated going to voters in 2013, but delayed it until 2014 without resolving individual disagreements. Some commissioners wanted to focus on large projects, while others want to include smaller items such as replacing playground equipment at neighborhood parks. Commissioners also split on how much flexibility the commission should have on choosing projects.

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