TRAVERSE CITY — A question asking city voters whether to lease the Traverse City Senior Center to Grand Traverse County won’t be on the November ballot.
City commissioners unanimously agreed to pull it at their meeting Monday. That’s less than a week after county commissioners took no action to ask voters countywide to approve two millages, one to build a new senior center building and another to fund its operations and maintenance.
Some county leaders cited concerns over rushing into a last-minute decision, as previously reported.
City leaders agreed on Aug. 3 to ask voters to authorize a lease after county commissioners requested some kind of property interest in the new senior center, planned for where the current one sits at East Front and Barlow streets.
That question would’ve been tie-barred to votes for the two millages, meaning all three questions would have to pass for them to take effect, city Manager Marty Colburn said.
Then, county commissioners wanted to adopt a 50-year lease — the county originally sought 99 — before deciding whether to put the millage questions before voters, Colburn said.
“We were getting actually quite close but we got down to a timeline that was not manageable, especially for something that was so critically important on such a long-term lease,” he said.
Colburn said he pulled the city out of a planned joint city-county meeting Aug. 11 — the day ballot language was due — after the time changed, and because city commissioners and the public would’ve had less than 24 hours to review the proposed lease.
A few city leaders voiced their unhappiness with how their county counterparts didn’t seem to match the city’s efforts or earnestness in working together to build a new senior center.
City Commisioner Christie Minervini thanked Colburn and said he made the right call.
“I think jumping through a bunch of time-sensitive hoops to meet this deadline when we weren’t really getting any commitment from the county board on the front end just did not sit right with me,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe said she’s disappointed for seniors who want the new building, adding it’ll be another two years before another countywide vote. She accused some county commissioners of being determined to throw roadblocks and thanked Colburn and city staff for “trying to meet an ever-changing goalpost line.”
“I don’t know if anything you could’ve done could’ve got us there, or if it would’ve always been something else,” she said.
Mayor Jim Carruthers echoed those criticisms and said good money was spent on a public planning process. He still hopes something happens in the future, and the delay likely means the senior center will be even costlier to build.
County board of commissioners Chairman Rob Hentschel, reached after the meeting, said county leaders worked on the project in good faith. He said that while the lease would’ve addressed some of the ownership issues, there were too many other unresolved ones — who builds the structure and the need for more parking, to name two.
“They’re very insistent that this is a facility for everyone in the county, but if you live in the south side of the county, you’re not going to get there without a car, and you need a place to park it,” he said.
Hentschel said he’s not ruling out a future agreement on the project, although he thinks it’s largely a city issue that has “significant scope creep” — the city owns the building and the county runs the programming, and the project’s gone from the two governments working on a new design to the county being expected to ask for a millage to pay for it, he said.