Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 4, 2014

Editorial: Without a compelling project, forget about 2014 ballot issue

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Some questions answer themselves.

The fact that a Traverse City Commission committee can’t come up with projects it agrees are worthy of tapping the city’s Brown Bridge Trust Fund should settle the question of whether to dip into the fund this year: No.

To be fair, at least part of the committee’s failure is timing. The committee was named in January and charged with creating a proposal for the November ballot on whether to divert about $2 million from the trust fund for park improvements.

The committee met once in February but now both City Manager Jered Ottenwess and Commissioner Gary Howe, who chairs the committee, have recommended postponing a ballot question for another year.

The committee will meet Monday to make a formal recommendation to the full commission. Commissioner Ross Richardson said although statements by committee members and city staff indicate the decision has already been made, he thinks it should be up to the full commission to decide.

That’s as it should be. But even having the full commission decide whether to go forward with a November ballot question does nothing to move the real issue off dead center - if this is such a great idea, why isn’t the debate about which terrific project to spend the money on rather than about tapping the trust fund?

As it has been from the start, this appears to be a solution looking for a problem. A number of groups have wish lists of park-related projects they’d like to see taken up with trust fund dollars, but none of them are compelling enough to have created an “ah-ha!” moment.

The city has already tackled — with truly disappointing results — an upgrade of Clinch Park, but no other big-ticket idea has surfaced.

The one area of general agreement seems to be that if the fund is tapped, the $2 million or so it will provide can’t be to just pad out the existing parks budget. Replacing outdoor play equipment or taking on every repair and painting project on the city’s to-do list can’t be what this is about.

This is looking more and more like an excuse to pump some additional trust fund money into city coffers over the long term. Right now about $250,000 a year from the fund goes into the city general fund. A 2013 Trust Fund ballot proposal would have asked voters to cap the $13 million trust fund at $12.5 million and set aside $500,000, plus five years of royalty payments, toward city parks. Interest generated beyond the cap would likely end up in the general fund.

This should be an effort fueled by a great idea, not looking for one.