City Faces Staffing Attrition, Budget/Strategy Disconnect, Says Interim Manager
By Beth Milligan | May 16, 2023
The City of Traverse City is facing a strategic disconnect between its budget and goals and a potential looming staffing crisis as one-third of employees become eligible for retirement in the next five years, new Interim City Manager Nate Geinzer told commissioners Monday. Geinzer – along with leadership from Traverse City Light & Power and the TC Downtown Development Authority – presented the city’s proposed 2023-24 budget to commissioners, with more discussion expected next week at a public hearing ahead of a final budget vote in June.
Geinzer – who reminded commissioners he’s been on the job just 10 business days following the departure of former City Manager Marty Colburn – thanked finance staff for their “herculean” effort to finalize the budget this year, especially absent a finance director. Though Geinzer acknowledged it can be “very difficult to wrap your head around a budget even when you’re there from the very beginning,” much less as a newcomer, he nonetheless wanted to “be honest” and share his observations on the city budget.
Geinzer said he believed there was a “big disconnect” between city commission goals and priorities – which include housing and homelessness, water systems, access and mobility, climate change, economic development, and connecting people with each other and nature – and staff responsibilities and day-to-day operations, including the city budget. That disconnect can create efficiency issues and increase internal tensions, Geinzer said. He questioned whether the city currently has the “staff capacities and resources” needed to facilitate the commission’s goals.
Part of determining that will be collecting missing data, the interim manager said. The city is currently midway through a joint study with Grand Traverse County of all city and county facilities, which will help give a clearer picture of city assets and needs. The city is also working on an employee classification and compensation study, and has budgeted funds to create a comprehensive streets improvement plan – something that hasn’t been tackled since 2006, Geinzer said.
One major looming challenge facing the city is staffing. The city needs to fill several major vacancies in the immediate future due to departures and upcoming retirements – including the city manager, assistant city manager, city police chief, and city finance director/treasurer – in addition to having 18 employees on staff who are eligible to retire at any time. An additional nine employees will become eligible to retire in the next year. In the next five years, over 50 city employees will qualify for retirement – a full third of the city’s full-time workforce. City Director of Human Resources Kristine Bosley called that figure “staggering,” with Geinzer agreeing that the city was “not prepared” for the coming turnover.
“That’s a succession issue and an institutional knowledge issue,” he said. “That’s just an equation that does not really have a solution based on how it’s laid out right now.” Geinzer said the city was in good shape in some budget areas, such as having a city fleet in good condition and stable property values that withstood even the 2007-08 financial crisis and continue to climb. “You’re in a lot better condition than a lot of other communities,” he said.
But Geinzer cautioned that when city commissioners review infrastructure projects next week at a public budget hearing, they’ll see that project costs are “skyrocketing” as material prices continue to soar. He expressed concerns that the city would not be able to continue spending as it has in recent years without impacts to core services, and suggested commissioners take a cautious approach in conserving the surplus in the city’s fund balance. He also noted that there is a small tax Traverse City could be levying but isn’t – under Public Act 359 of 1925 – that could help the city offset some of its communications and promotional costs.
Geinzer recommended commissioners consider an overall “strategic regroup and realignment,” adding that “transition” is the theme of this year’s budget process. In addition to discussing infrastructure projects and holding a public budget hearing next week, commissioners could have another study session on May 30 to further discuss the plan before voting to adopt the budget on June 5.
In other city news...
> Fourteen residents graduated Monday during a ceremony at the city commission meeting from City Academy, a new educational program designed to train citizens on city government operations and prepare them for serving on city boards and commissions. Nearly 50 individuals applied to participate in the program, with the selected inaugural class representing 11 different city neighborhoods, both new and long-term city residents, and age groups from every decade from the 1940s to the early 2000s. Graduates included Alice Bowe, Lisa Brady, Matt Bulloch, Bobby Busley, Thomas Comerford, Deborah Douglas, Margaret Fako, Megan Holtrey, Caroline Kennedy, Jack Lankford, David Page, Michelle Perez, Kathleen Ricord, and Merek Roman. More information on City Academy is available here.
> The Traverse City planning commission will host a community open house tonight (Tuesday) at the Park Place Hotel at 7pm to review and discussed a series of proposed zoning changes on housing. “We are inviting the public to learn more about these proposed changes that can have an impact on increasing access to housing,” according to City Planning Director Shawn Winter. “The demand for housing in our region remains high, particularly in locations that are convenient and accessible to one’s daily needs. Land use regulations as they relate to permitting housing types, densities, and locations are just one of the many levers influencing the housing needs in the city, but one that (the) city commission and planning commission have direct influence over.” The open house will be followed by a public hearing on the changes on June 6 at the planning commission.
> The city is now accepting nominating packets from individuals wishing to run for the office of city commissioner or mayor, staff announced Monday. Three city commission seats are up for grabs in the November 2023 election, including those of Amy Shamroe, Mitch Treadwell, and Linda Koebert. City commissioners serve for four-year terms. The position of Traverse City mayor – currently held by Richard Lewis – will also be up grabs for a two-year term. Candidates must be over the age of 18 and a resident and registered voter of Traverse City. Candidates can pick up a nominating packet from the city clerk's office at 400 Boardman Avenue. Completed packets must be filed with other required documentation with the city clerk by July 25 at 4pm.Comment