BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Overflowing trash cans, littered beaches and dirty bathrooms — that's the not-so-pretty side of a community jam-packed with summer tourists and festivals.
Some Traverse City officials wonder how, indeed if, they can effectively manage the mountains of refuse amid staff cutbacks in an era of tighter government budgets.
Garbage began to pile up around beachfront and downtown trash cans during the National Cherry Festival and the problem hasn't dissipated, said Steve Constantin, chairman of the city's Downtown Development Authority.
"We walk the downtown every day and get to see what's going on," Constantin said. "It's like 'give me a pickup truck' so I can empty some of these trash cans.
"We're a million dollar city and we should look that way," he said.
City officials snipped a ribbon to open the new Clinch Park pavilion on June 25, and less than eight hours later the women's bathroom was littered with trash and several stalls had run out of toilet paper. The situation hasn't improved much since then, said Brian Haas, chairman of the city Parks and Recreation Commission.
On July 4, the new bathrooms were sans toilet paper by 4 p.m. and The River, which operates the food concession at the pavilion, bought $90 worth of toilet paper for the city, Haas said. That supply was gone by 10 p.m.
"It's not just Clinch; we get complaints about all the bathrooms," Haas said.
Early July 5 a city worker used his smart phone to videotape a fiery sunrise as he rode the city's beach groomer along the shores of West Bay. His camera also showed a beach littered with cups, beer boxes, used fireworks, and other detritus left from the previous night's fireworks.
"Who is raising their children to treat Traverse City like this?" asked city Commissioner Jim Carruthers. "Doesn't anyone care about anything anymore?"
The beach groomer's video didn't surprise Lauren Vaughn, city parks and recreation director. The same scene repeats itself each year after fireworks displays.
"It is getting worse every year, but we are there and it's gone before anybody gets out of bed," Vaughn said.
All of the city's beaches have a litter problem, Haas said, but the issue may not be as evident because local families and individuals take to the beaches nearly every morning to collect trash and rake sections missed by the city's groomer.
Something needs to change, Carruthers said, before Traverse City becomes "Trash City."
"Maybe we've eliminated too many city workers," Carruthers said. "Trash seems to be a never-ending problem."
Mayor Michael Estes said he hasn't heard any such complaints and bristled at Parks and Recreation Commission officials sticking their noses into parks' bathrooms.
"The parks commission has no authority to evaluate the condition of city bathrooms," Estes said. "They are an advisory body and can only work on projects dictated by the city commission."
It's not just more people in the downtown and on city beaches that creates the challenge, said Dave Green, the city's director of public services. He peered at Woodmere Avenue and pointed to the landscaped boulevard. The traffic islands used to be asphalt, Green said, and didn't need to be mowed, weeded, or irrigated.
Each city improvement, whether it's a trail extension or 3,800 new plantings at Clinch Park, requires someone to maintain it. The city's streets and parks departments has 35 employees, including clerical, supervisors, and seven seasonal people, Green said. That's 10 less workers than in 2005.
"It's the bodies," Green said. "There's just not enough people to do all of the tasks you need to do."
The city has an outside contract for bathroom cleaning and Vaughn met with the contractor to address some of Haas' concerns. The city also assigned one person to provide maintenance for the Open Space and Clinch Park through the rest of the summer.
The DDA voted to seek bids for 16 more trash cans for the downtown, but city officials said containers alone won't solve the burgeoning trash problem. They need more pick-ups, likely in the evenings, but have no staff to do it or money to pay for it.
"So where does the money come from," Estes said. "I don't remember anyone campaigning to raise city taxes."