Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 8, 2013

Editorial: Not messing around with trust fund is fine

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — The city commission, the new city manager and a host of citizens on various boards and panels should be proud of themselves. City residents should be happy.

They decided — pretty much collectively, no less — to not get into a wrestling match over more than $2 million in essentially free money that could have gone to a laundry list of city park projects.

Instead, they decided to call a time out and spend the next year trying to sort out the best way to use — or not — up to $2.2 million from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund.

This isn’t to say there won’t be plenty of pushing and shoving, and perhaps even some eye-gouging, in the days before any decision next year on how — or even if — to use the money.

But for now everyone agreed there wasn’t enough time between now and November to come up with smart ideas and put together a ballot proposal that might be approved by city voters.

This all started with a proposal from the Brown Bridge advisory committee to cap the trust fund, which now stands at $13.2 million, at $12.5 million and then divert royalty payments for five years with the money going to city parks projects. The city estimated the cap and diversion would create a pool of about $2.2 million.

Not surprisingly, there were lots of ideas.

The Brown Bridge advisory committee wanted to spend money to spruce up the bottom lands where Brown Bridge Pond, which is no longer there, used to be. The Old Towne Neighborhood Association wants to create pocket parks in their neighborhood. Central Neighborhood wants funding to make Hannah Park on the Boardman River a more natural environment. And the Parks and Recreation Commission has a capital improvements list.

So City Manager Jered Ottenwess recommended city commissioners just drop for now any effort to ask voters in November to amend the city charter to allow the trust fund to be capped and tapped.

From the start, this had a cart-before-the-horse feel. The way these kinds of things should work is that someone identifies a pressing need — one that most everyone can agree on — and suggests a creative way to fund it.

This was more like “let’s pry some money out of the trust fund and then fight over it.” Not a way to do public business.

Let’s hope some smart and universally accepted ideas emerge between now and next year that voters can get behind.