Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 15, 2013

Seeing red: Estes wants fire department, cherry fest cuts

TRAVERSE CITY — Mayor Michael Estes wants another two years on the city commission to finish what he started, chief among them the reorganization of how the city delivers fire protection services.

Estes seeks a second consecutive two-year term and faces challenger Rick Buckhalter in the Nov. 5 election. The two find little common ground, particularly on the topic of the city’s fire department.

“The fire department is the only department we are over-staffing,” Estes said. “Every other department is right-sized.”

The city is in talks with Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department regarding a possible consolidation in which Metro would take over city fire services. Estes contends Metro, which relies on part-time firefighters without additional job benefits, would provide equivalent or better service at substantially reduced costs.

Metro would not provide advance life support response as the city does with its paramedics, and instead would rely on North Flight EMS, a division of Munson HealthCare. Estes said North Flight can adequately fill the role.

“It will be a Godsend for both the city and the three townships that make up the Metro system,” Estes said.

Estes proposes to shift would-be fire department savings into road improvements. He takes credit for spearheading commission efforts to increase funding for roads from $100,000 annually six years ago to over $1.25 million in the current year, and he wants to continue to grow that investment.

But Estes won’t raise taxes to fix roads, and if voters approve a 1 mill tax levy sought by the county road commission that would generate about $750,000 for the city, he will propose to reduce the city’s tax levy by 1 mill.

“City taxpayers are already overburdened,” Estes said.

Residents erupted when noisy festivals captured three of five weekends in August at the Open Space. They complained to commissioners about noise, the number of festivals, trash, and the cheap cost to rent the Open Space.

Estes said the first step is to ban festivals on the three major holidays of the summer, even though it would disrupt the National Cherry Festival. He proposes no other limits, other than not allowing them every weekend. He supports new policies to address noise, trash, fees to use the Open Space, and the number and size of tents allowed for festivals.

Estes also proposes “to do everything I can,” to move the Cherry Festival out of the farmers market parking lot and push the festival’s midway out of the downtown.

“The Cherry Festival is this huge mass of humanity right now and we need to do everything we can to lessen that impact on city residents,” he said. “But I’d rather not mandate anything. I’d rather the festivals address these concerns themselves.”

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