TC’s Future Bright or Burdened

In recent years many cities and governmental units in Michigan have been forced to drastically reduce services in addition to raising taxes. Over the last several years, Traverse City through careful management of resources and prudent city commission decisions has been able to avoid tax increases, keeping essential city services and providing additional infrastructure despite less revenue from the state and other sources. This has been accomplished by the city in various ways and these actions will hopefully continue as the city continues their current budget discussions.

Over these last several years, non-essential staffing has been reduced (generally by attrition), new employee contracts except for police and fire services have essentially seen no increases in compensation, staffing vacancies have been slow to fill to insure that those positions are necessary and non-essential services have been terminated or provided for by other funding sources (Senior Center, History Center, Zoo Train).

As the City commission moves forward, it has expressed great interest in spending $1.5 million for streets and sidewalks, up from 1.0 million last year and drastically up from $100,000 just five years ago. In addition, commissioners have recognized the need to set aside funds for Division Street improvements and for other major projects outlined in the Corridors Study. If approved, these City projects, along with other upgrades of the Boardman Trail, continued improvements at the Open Space, enhancements to the Boardman River access and others make our City the envy of the state in funding public projects.

Capital improvements are only possible if we can continue to right size our staffing levels. Our discussions with the Metro Fire Department are designed to meet the regional needs of fire protection services which include both the city and three adjacent townships. Additionally we must work more effectively with the county and the townships to ensure that our delivery system of services meets taxpayer expectations and maintains the quality of services our residents expect.

That said, we can continue to deliver a quality product for our residents and taxpayers but we must be flexible enough to seize the moment and not be reluctant in re-assessing services as they have been delivered previously. Unfortunately, there is little the city can do to address the massive underfunded city pension plans, especially those of the public safety workers. These are obligations, inherited from prior commissioners and city administration and in the near future mean that your taxes will, by mandate, increase to legally satisfy the sins of our past.

The city has developed a cooperative process with the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) to ensure that city residents as a whole and the community at-large are beneficiaries of TIFF (Tax Incremental Financing Funds) expenditures. Additionally as the City Light and Power Authority (L&P) moves forward, we should all be encouraged that new leadership at L&P will better coordinate L&P capital projects and employee contracts with those from the city to the benefit of all.

The immediate and long-term future for Traverse City and the surrounding communities is extremely bright. With the continued support of our citizens, staff, and property owners we can continue in leaving a brighter future for our next generation of leaders and citizens.

Michael Estes is the mayor of Traverse City.

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