Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Views

January 16, 2014

Editorial: Projects should decide Trust Fund proposal

In 2013 the Traverse City Commission tabled a plan to ask voters to cap the $13 million Brown Bridge Trust Fund at $12.5 million and divert $500,000, plus five years of royalty payments, toward city parks. City staff estimated the cap would create up to $2 million for parks over those five years.

The commission decided it didn’t have a compelling list of projects ready to present to voters and there wasn’t enough time before the November elections to talk to constituent groups, come up with a list and explain the projects to voters.

Now, though, the commission has decided to create a three-person committee to review and score a proposed list of projects. The committee will also look again at how much money should be diverted from the trust fund and other funding options.

As some observers said last year, 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.

It’s not as if there are no ideas for what to do with the money. But there is no “consolidated proposal,” as Commissioner Jeanine Easterday put it.

The Brown Bridge Advisory Committee has a wish list of $947,000 worth of projects, and three neighborhood associations have also submitted project lists. The city’s Parks and Recreation Commission has a capital improvement list of its own, and the city planning commission has some park projects on its capital improvements list.

The committee, which has yet to be chosen, will meet with interest groups to review their proposals, but its goals “are wide open,” said Mayor Michael Estes.

Commissioner Tim Werner was right to suggest the committee create a process for ranking projects so it isn’t swayed by those who make the most noise. Commissioner Gary Howe said the committee needs to come up with an “overarching goal.”

The commission also has to be committed to the idea that it may be best to just walk away from the whole thing. From the start this process has looked like an idea in search of justification.

There may well be many worthy projects out there, but tapping the trust fund is a major step that will require some compelling reasons to move ahead.

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