Whatever other priorities Traverse City Commissioners have for the 2013 fiscal year budget, they absolutely must continue to invest significant amounts to repair potholed, bumpy streets and crumbling sidewalks.
In early budget conversations, commissioners supported spending more on infrastructure, but there is so far no agreement on how much. Their target is to increase general fund spending in those areas from $1.1 million this year to $1.5 million.
That should be a minimum. After years and years of neglecting infrastructure needs, with spending as little as $200,000 a year, the city, in Mayor Mike Estes' first term increased infrastructure spending to $1 million a year.
While that was a significant change, it still wasn't enough to catch up. Now, an investment of $1.5 million a year should be a minimum. While much has been done, there is still plenty to do. Significant sidewalk gaps still exist across the city, places where walks simply end, even in residential areas, and pedestrians are forced to walk on lawns or snowbanks or move into the street. That's unacceptable.
There's never enough money to meet every need, but infrastructure must be a priority. Home and business owners pay thousands in property taxes, and decent road and sidewalk systems must be a minimum return on their investment.
The city also has to deal with its looming pension obligations, but tossing $200,000 into the kitty — as proposed this year — isn't nearly enough. Commissioners must come up with a comprehensive plan that solves the problem in the long run.