Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 7, 2013

Editorial: So far, no compelling reasons to tap fund

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Traverse City commissioners took a logical step Monday toward giving city residents the time they need to make an informed decision about capping the Brown Bridge Trust Fund and spending up to $2.2 million from the fund on park projects.

A delay is a must, particularly since it will give the city time to come up with a list of compelling, critical projects worthy of dipping into the fund — something residents have yet to see.

If a vote was to be held next week, city officials would be hard-pressed to lay out parks work that is worthy of dipping into the fund. The commission has directed the administration to prepare an updated list of potential projects before they decide to put the question before voters.

Commissioners want the parks and recreation commission, the Brown Bridge Advisory Committee and the planning commission to create a project list before deciding whether to head to the ballot. Taking money from the fund requires a vote of the people.

The fact that such a list doesn’t already exist — or that there isn’t some large, compelling project that launched this idea in the first place — should make city residents wonder.

The fund has been created by royalty payments from oil and gas leases at the city-owned Brown Bridge Quiet Area. Interest from the fund, which has continued to grow over the years, goes for general city operations.

The ballot proposal being considered would ask voters to cap the trust fund at $12.5 million and divert royalty payments for five years toward city parks. City staff estimates the cap would create about $2.2 million for parks.

That would pay for a lot of park work — but only projects outside normal day-to-day maintenance needs would make such an extraordinary step worth the money and precedent. It may be that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” but these aren’t them.

Carol Hale, a former city commissioner who was instrumental in creating the Trust Fund, wrote in a May 1 op-ed that use of the trust should be only for “a permanent improvement for all citizens of the city” that would not “include ‘slides and swings,’ which should be part of the Recreation Department’s yearly budget.”

That’s a sound suggestion and a good rule of thumb.

Mayor Michael Estes said the commission is in agreement about using the trust fund for park improvements.

“But everyone agreed this is not something we need to rush into,” he said.

Or maybe not at all.