Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 2, 2013

Traverse City officials at odds over tapping trust fund

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A city ballot proposal to withdraw about $2.2 million from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund to pay for park improvements faces an uncertain reception from city commissioners.

Several commissioners said the ballot question is too vague and doomed to failure if it's put before voters on Nov. 5, at least in the current form favored by Mayor Michael Estes. The commission may decide to tweak the language or table it for another year when it meets Monday at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.

"The general sense I'm getting from people is unless there is something specific they can support, they will not support the ballot proposal," said city Commissioner Jeanine Easterday. "I hate to put something on the ballot that you know ahead of time is going to be defeated."

Royalty payments from oil and gas leases at the Brown Bridge Quiet Area created the fund of about $13.2 million, and interest from the ever-growing fund pays for general city operations. The ballot proposal 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.

Proposed ballot language that is now before commissioners would use the money for: "city park capital improvements including neighborhood parks, parkland and park equipment acquisition, forestry, pathways, trails and boardwalks."

"If it's going to be that vague I don't think it will fly," said city Commissioner Jody Bergman. "We already know vague things don't in this community."

To determine how the money will be spent City Manager Ben Bifoss recommends the city's Parks and Recreation Commission revisit it's five-year capital improvements plan and meld it with the Brown Bridge Advisory Committee's request for funds to address drawdown of the Brown Bridge pond. The planning commission would review the project list and the city would follow with presentations to neighborhood associations and a public hearing before the city commission.

But several city commissioners said there's not enough time to take that path.

"It's going into June and the next thing you know it's July and not a lot gets done in Traverse City in July," Easterday said.

Commissioner Jim Carruthers proposes to take a year to conduct a dedicated public campaign to decide what projects city residents want to fund.

"Estes wants a blank check and I don't think the community is going to go for that," Carruthers said.

Estes said there is enough time if the commission doesn't become bogged in too many details. He worries naming projects for funding will create a backlash in the community among those whose projects don't get funded.

Commissioner Mary Ann Moore doesn't agree with the premise of tapping the trust fund for parks. She rather see the city reduce the fund to $10 million and spend the money on roads.

"I do think parks are extremely important, but first you have to get to them," Moore said.

But Moore said she's a minority of one on the commission and she leans to supporting the ballot proposal.

"This is a plausible, reasonable thing and it should be acceptable to the citizenry," she said.