Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 16, 2013

City Commission candidate Howe wants to add value to city

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Commission candidate Gary Howe wants the city budget to reflect added value for residents.

Howe will contend with six other candidates on Nov. 5 for three, four-year city commission seats. He questions if the current commission spends too much time maintaining the status quo rather than moving toward specific goals.

“We have a big quality of life here, but I started to question if I was seeing my values fully reflected in the budget,” Howe said.

Commissioners in recent years increased funding for road improvements from $100,000 to over $1.25 million in 2013, in part by not replacing departed staff in other city departments.

City services are adequate, Howe said, but he would consider adding staff to the planning department. He wants that department to take more of a lead in city economic development.

He wants the city’s street work to include measures to slow traffic — narrower lanes or bump outs at pedestrian crossings. He also wants to see more focus on developing the city’s sidewalk system, especially around parks and schools.

Howe passed on adding a sidewalk to a short street as a planning commissioner and said he doesn’t want to get bogged down in street-by-street battles with city staff. Instead, he wants to change city policy so staffers always design sidewalks into a project and the planning commission must opt to take them out.

Howe said he is undecided whether to support a county road millage that would return $750,000 to the city for roads. He would add that money to the city’s road budget and consider implementing one of the city’s corridor improvement plans.

Howe hasn’t staked out a particular stance on city talks to consolidate its fire department with Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department. He said he won’t support any service reduction, but he questions if the current full-time department is financially sustainable. 

“If the community wants a professional department, how do we pay for it,” Howe said. “Can we afford it?”

Residents’ concerns about festivals at the Open Space have been subject of campaign discussions and Howe contends the problem isn’t with the number of festivals, but the city’s inability to manage them. He wants someone from the city assigned to monitor festivals and act as an ombudsman for citizen complaints.

He believes the National Cherry Festival is too long and needs to have a more local focus.

Elected commissioners will decide in 2016 if they will return about  $400,000 in city property taxes captured by the Downtown Development Authority to the city general fund, along with $450,000 collected from other taxing entities such as Grand Traverse County.

Howe opposes allowing the tax increment financing district to expire. He proposes expanding it to include the Eighth Street corridor and resetting the captured amount to zero in 2016.