Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 20, 2013

Editorial: Townships should share costs for shared assets

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Maybe it’s a legacy thing. But some Garfield Township residents — and even some elected officials — apparently think they have an inherent right to use Traverse City recreation assets without helping pay for them.

Imagine how Joe Garfield would feel if the neighbors felt entitled to jump in the backyard pool whenever they felt like it.

Understandably, that’s how some Traverse City residents feel about Garfield folks paying just a few bucks more than city residents to ski at Hickory Hills Ski Area while the township lets the city do the heavy lifting.

To their credit, a majority on the township board has voiced support for kicking in $8,000 for a $32,000 master plan effort for Hickory Hills that will identify long-term improvements and make the park eligible for Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants.

The group Preserve Hickory also wants the master plan process to examine park management and long-term financial sustainability.

Some township board members said they consider Hickory Hills — which is actually located in the township — a community asset and would like to see it remain open. The ski area has been on thin ice in recent years; it costs the city about $100,000 a year to operate in addition to daily fees. For city residents 13 and older, an all-day Saturday pass costs $18; Garfield residents pay just $21.

“That’s an asset to Garfield Township in the winter when our parks aren’t maintained,” said township Trustee Bob Featherstone. He said the $8,000 request was a “pretty cheap investment.”

Township Treasurer Jeane Blood didn’t see it that way. “It’s a city asset and the city should be taking care of their asset,” she said. “Our funds should go to our parks.”

And city parks should be open to ... everybody?

Alisa Kroupa, chairwoman of the township’s parks and recreation commission, said the next step would be to ask the township to help fund city park operations. Under the user-pays rationale that underpins many taxes at the local, state and national levels, that sounds like a fair idea.

Garfield has a bigger population than the city, more land area than the city and a virtually identical tax base, but township residents pay a lot less in property taxes than city residents. In part, that’s because the city supports things like Hickory Hills and a lot of beachfront.

Seeking a little help paying for recreational assets used by those who live outside the city is only fair.