By BRIAN McGILLIVARY
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A vote on allowing food trucks in Traverse City's downtown likely will dominate debate at tonight's city commission meeting, despite a public hearing on the city's proposed $30 million operating budget.
City residents have shown little appetite for discussing the proposed budget, but the debate on mobile food vendors has yet to cool. Commissioners continue to get peppered by emails and personal contacts from constituents and business owners about the proposed ordinance they will vote on today when they meet at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.
"The timing of this will keep anyone from thinking about the budget," Commissioner Mike Gillman said. "They are definitely more interested in (food vendors)."
The proposed budget reflects inflationary increases, some extra money for road projects, and no program cuts or lay-offs. Commissioners consider it a flat, maintenance budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The food truck ordinance would allow up to two mobile food vendors to operate from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. in four city parking lots near the downtown and on State Street between Union and Pine streets. A vendor would pay an annual fee of $1,225 to park on city property or $725 for private property. The ordinance also would open some streets in other areas near Northwestern Michigan College, the Civic Center, Munson Medical Center, and some of the city’s larger parks.
Downtown business owners have led the opposition; they've asked commissioners for protection from what they consider unfair competition.
"If ticky-tacky street vendors of any kind are allowed, then we will have done well in devaluing our city," wrote Nick and Jerilyn deBoer, owners of Cousin Jenny's Cornish Pasties, in a letter to commissioners. "We will surely be the shoddy, carnival our visitors see when they drive down the tunnel of trash, which makes up U.S. 31 North.
Commissioner Jim Carruthers said he expects some attempts to amend the ordinance, including attempts to eliminate food vendors from residential park areas and on State Street. Carruthers wants to keep vending on one downtown street to see how it works. The city commission will re-examine the ordinance in the fall.
"If it goes bad we will revisit it and if it doesn't go bad we will revisit it," Carruthers said.
Other items on the city commission's agenda include:
• Scheduling interviews for city manager candidates. The city's search consultant proposes to eliminate five of the 11 finalists, some due to background checks. At least four of the candidates were fired from their previous city manager positions. The commission may go into closed session to discuss advice from the city attorney about being careful about what they say about the candidates.
• Approval of a contract with the Traverse City Film Festival to turn the Con Foster Museum building into a year-round movie house.
• Further discussion of creating a ballot proposal to cap the Brown Bridge Trust Fund at $12.5 million and redirect further oil and gas royalty payments to city park improvements.