Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 15, 2013

Buckhalter: Divert money from roads to staff

TRAVERSE CITY — Rick Buckhalter has never held an elected position but the mayoral candidate attended and spoke at an estimated 400 city commission meetings.

Buckhalter will challenge incumbent Mayor Michael Estes for the two-year term in the Nov. 5 election. He’s a frequent critic of the commission and credits the way Estes runs meetings for pushing him into the race.

“Estes at times gets very impatient with people and he cuts them off,” Buckhalter said. “Estes makes me so mad sometimes ... the way he treats people.”

City commissioners over the past six years increased road improvements funding from $100,000 to over $1.25 million in the current year, in part by not replacing staff in other city departments. Buckhalter said the cuts are too deep, especially at the police department, and he wants to shift money back to services.

“In my neighborhood (Traverse Heights) the amount of drug use and violent crime is going up,” Buckhalter said. “So if it’s a choice between more police or a new sidewalk, I’ll take the police.”

Buckhalter said he has no statistics to show city crime is on the rise.

A county-wide road millage before voters would funnel about $750,000 into the city. Buckhalter supports the 1-mill levy because county roads need the work. But it would also make it easier to shift general fund money the city now spends on streets to services, such as restoring some city firefighter positions.

The city is in talks with Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department regarding a possible consolidation that would see Metro take over city fire protection services. Supporters contend Metro, which relies on part-time firefighters without benefits, could provide equivalent or better service at substantially reduced costs compared to the city’s full-time and more highly trained paramedics/firefighters.

Buckhalter said there is no benefit to consolidation with Metro, nor is there any support for it among the majority of city residents.

Residents’ concerns about festivals at the Open Space — including complaints about noise, trash, and other matters — have become fodder for candidates this election season.

Buckhalter proposes to survey residents about the types of festivals they want and draft polices to encourage those and discourage others.

“What people don’t like more than anything is noise,” Buckhalter said. “If you can hear the sound coming from the downtown at the edge of your neighborhood, it’s too loud.

“It shouldn’t be based on some sound meter,” he said.

Some residents would like the city to downsize the Cherry Festival, but Buckhalter said it’s too important and he hasn’t seen enough “angst” from city residents to force any changes on the festival.

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