TRAVERSE CITY — The political pundits refer to 2013 as a “non-election” year because it offers a brief but welcome respite from a seemingly never-ending campaign cycle for state and federal office.
But here in the Traverse City area, it’s a very big election year with the Nov. 5 election just a couple weeks away. Within Traverse City, there’s plenty at stake for local residents and businesses as three commissioner seats and the mayoral post on the City Commission are up for grabs – a majority of the seven-member commission. Across the Traverse City Area Public Schools district, its long-term capital projects plan hangs in the balance in a two-part bond millage sought by the district.
It’s not at all a stretch to suggest that these decisions facing local voters will shape our community for years - potentially decades - to come. The Traverse City Area Chamber won’t tell you which candidates to vote for, as it’s our job to work with whichever candidates get elected. But there’s plenty for voters to think about before casting their ballots. In the city races, there’s been a lot of focus on issues like sidewalks, streets and the appropriate number of city festivals. These are detail subjects that – while important – let candidates dwell on narrow topics while potentially skirting more fundamental discussions on where the city is today and more importantly where it’s headed.
The city is fortunate that, in recent years anyway, a majority of the city commission understood the important role local business has played in the success the city enjoys today. The city has invested in public parking, attractive streets and advanced public-private partnerships that helped its downtown – which was on shaky ground just a generation ago – evolve into one of the most-popular central business districts in Michigan. It embraced tax abatements and other incentives to help our local manufacturers compete across the globe.
Those efforts helped protect the city’s tax base against the devastating plunge in property values felt by scores of Michigan communities during the Great Recession. As a result, the community’s residential and commercial property values are nearing pre-recession levels, and the construction sector is on the rebound. Long-dilapidated in-fill properties are being revitalized with development including a new TBA Credit Union building and the recently-opened CVS pharmacy, both located on Front Street.
So where do we go from here? Is it time to turn off the spigot on growth and development just as the state and national economies are slowly perking up? Or do we need our tax base, job opportunities and business sector to continue to grow as they have the past two years.
The answer is the latter, of course. Yet too often there are voices that try to pit the business community against the interests of city residents, as if a strong business sector and thriving neighborhoods are somehow mutually exclusive. The Chamber would argue just the opposite – a thriving business base protects our neighborhoods, expands our recreational and cultural offerings and creates opportunity for the next generation. The city is on the right track – the issue is whether to keep moving ahead or stop the momentum so some folks can get off.
Some of the same parallels can be drawn to the TCAPS school bond issue. Should the community finish what it started more than a decade ago and complete a sound, fiscally responsible plan to rebuild its oldest elementary schools? Should we give our children the technology to compete in a global economy, and make our schools safer in an ever more-dangerous world? Or do we decide not to invest in our next generation, and let our public school buildings further deteriorate and the technology grow stale.
Big questions – and important decisions.
Especially for a “non-election” year.