Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 16, 2014

Officials increase sidewalk spending

TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners will debate how to ask voters to tap a city trust fund for $3 million in park improvements after rejecting a request to set aside $300,000 from the city’s general fund for a similar purpose.

Commissioner Gary Howe recently proposed tapping the general fund to boost city parks as a way to help reduce the general fund’s $4.1 million cash surplus to about $3 million. Commissioner Tim Werner made a similar proposal to set aside $250,000 from the surplus for future sidewalk improvements.

Werner ultimately garnered an extra $100,000 for sidewalk construction this summer, but Howe came up empty because he couldn’t get fellow commissioners to play along with his pitch.

“We all say we support parks, but we haven’t budgeted for them,” Howe said.

Commissioners said the city will ask voters in November to tap into the Brown Bridge Trust Fund to pay for park improvements, which could accomplish Howe’s goal.

But Howe doesn’t like the proposed ballot language. Commissioners will discuss both the budget and the ballot language when they meet May 19 at 7 p.m. at the Governmental Center.

The proposed ballot language recommended by a three-member committee of city commissioners will read: “Approve the use of $3,000,000 (three million dollars) from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund for capital improvement projects in City parks over the next five years only if matching funds can be secured from non City of Traverse City sources.”

Howe questioned if supplemental funds are necessary, considering the budget surplus in the city general fund. He has called the $3 million target “arbitrary” and does not believe five years is long enough to identify projects and find matching funds.

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. It’s that interest Howe wants to set aside for park improvements. Currently, the city budgets nothing unless someone comes to them with a proposal.

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