TRAVERSE CITY -- Pete LaCourse doesn't have an answer when a mother on a tight budget calls and asks the physical education instructor where she can take her son to shoot some baskets in the winter.

Swim coach Jessie Houghton said she doesn't want to turn girls away from the high school swim team because they can't afford the $400 cost to swim at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center pool.

Houghton and LaCourse were two of the many residents who told Grand Traverse County Commissioners funding and expansion of parks and recreation programs and facilities need to be higher on their priority list.

Almost 100 residents gathered Thursday night at the Civic Center to offer ideas and help set the county board's 2010 priorities. Their input will influence how the county intends to spend the discretionary part of its $152 million annual budget.

"First I'm thrilled with the turnout," said county Commissioner Larry Inman, "and clearly there was a lot of emphasis on expanding and maximizing our current parks system."

LaCourse, who lives across the street from the Civic Center, called it the "best backyard in the world," but said the community could do better. He suggested expanding the pool and skate park and adding a community gym.

Residents also stressed the need for better transportation systems and more non-motorized trails as called for in the Grand Vision Land Use and Transportation Study.

Residents urged the county to make implementation of the Grand Vision a top priority.

"Because, if (implementation) is everybody's job, nobody will do it," said Kennard Weaver, of Peninsula Township.

Residents had several other recommendations for commissioners' long-range strategic plan, from lobbying Congress for a veterans hospital in Traverse City to more emphasis on recycling.

Bernadette Albers noted that most of the suggestions involved quality of life issues, and said what the county really needs are quality jobs.

"Why aren't we talking about jobs?" Albers said. "It's the big gorilla in the room. I urge you to really start addressing that gorilla, because if no one addresses it, five years from now we will still be in this same spot."

The county board will compile all the suggestions and hold a follow-up meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Civic Center. During that meeting residents will be asked to prioritize the county's long-range goals.

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