Traverse City News and Events

City Passes 2021-22 Budget, Approves Putting Up Pride Flag At Clinch Park

By Beth Milligan | June 8, 2021

Traverse City commissioners Monday approved the city's 2021-22 budget, declared June LGBTQ+ Pride Month in Traverse City, and approved hanging a Progress Pride flag at Clinch Park and asking Grand Traverse County to fly a flag at the Governmental Center. Commissioners also approved changes to platform café rules in the city and passed a resolution opposing proposed statewide legislation that would ban local communities from regulating short-term rentals.

Budget
Commissioners approved the city’s 2021-22 budget Monday, including designating funds to add several new positions including a city communications specialist, Hickory Hills manager, engineering aide, fire department administrative assistant, and street department equipment operator. The board approved staff's proposed $19.7 million general fund operating budget, as well as the $35.1 million Traverse City Light & Power budget, the $2.3 million Downtown Development Authority (DDA) budget, the $3.3 million TIF 97 budget, and the $777,850 Old Town TIF budget.

According to City Manager Marty Colburn, the city is going into its next fiscal year – which starts July 1 – “financially in stable condition” thanks to reducing spending during the pandemic, realizing a 5.22 percent growth in real estate/personal property tax revenues due to a strong real estate market in the city, and receiving state and federal funding. Another $1.55 million is expected to come to the city from the recently passed American Rescue Plan, and city staff are applying for millions in low-interest state loans this summer to address urgent water and sewer repairs throughout the city.

In addition to those repair loans, City Commissioner Tim Werner made a motion Monday to include $60,000 in funding within the new budget for an inflow and infiltration study, which was approved by the board. Inflow and infiltration are the two main culprits plaguing the city’s pipes, according to Director of Municipal Utilities Art Krueger. Inflow occurs when water gets into the system through manhole covers or illicit connections from roof drains or basement sump pumps to the system. Infiltration occurs through cracks or loose joints in pipes when surface water seeps into the ground and forces its way into the pipes. Infiltration is a particular risk when the pipe is submerged by groundwater, which puts pressure on the pipe. According to city data, more than 7.1 miles of city sewer pipes are below Lake Michigan’s record-high water levels last year – meaning likely increased groundwater pressure on all those lines.

While some of the state loans the city has applied for could go to inflow and infiltration repair projects, Werner said the city needed to get a head start by first developing a strategic plan to address those issues. "I feel we have a responsibility to start looking at that," he said. "We know it's an issue, so we should start looking at it." Commissioner Brian McGillivary agreed that a "long-term strategic plan" was important, saying the city didn't yet have a "comprehensive" approach for analyzing some of the biggest challenges facing its infrastructure. Also related to water and sewer in the budget, city water and sewer rates will increase by three percent this year to keep up with inflation and infrastructure costs. 

The new approved budget also covers plans to establish an advisory community policing committee to offer feedback from local stakeholders to the city manager and TCPD chief. Those two officials have said they see the committee as an opportunity to increase transparency and build public trust with TCPD operations. Colburn also included funds in the upcoming budget to go through a visioning process to consider potential future uses for the city-owned Senior Center building on East Front Street. With Grand Traverse County exploring the possibility of relocating its senior programming off of the site, city staff want to be proactive in considering other potential future options for the property. Staff have said the site will continue to be used for public recreation/park use, if not for continued senior programming. Any other kind of use, or selling the property, would require a public vote under the city charter.

Also at Monday's commission meeting...
> Traverse City commissioners unanimously passed a resolution declaring June LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the city, and approved flying a Progress Pride flag on the flagpole at Clinch Park for the month. The Progress Pride flag encompasses the six-colored rainbow flag that is traditionally used as a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community, plus black and brown stripes to represent communities of color and pink, light blue, and white colors to represent the transgender community.

Commissioners also approved a resolution to request that Grand Traverse County fly the Progress Pride flag at the Governmental Center, which is co-owned by the county and city. Grand Traverse County Administrator Nate Alger recently rejected an individual request from Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers to fly a Pride flag, prompting Carruthers to ask fellow city commissioners to back the request so it officially came from the city as an entity. Alger raised First Amendment concerns about putting the flag up in his rejection memo to Carruthers, saying it could obligate the Governmental Center to accommodate all other kinds of flag requests.

Because of the potential that a county-city disagreement over raising the flag at the Governmental Center could drag out past June, city commissioners also approved putting a flag up at Clinch Park this month, since that location is entirely city-owned. City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht included recommended language in the resolution that made it clear that raising the flag was a city commission speech choice – government bodies also have free speech protections – and did not open up the Clinch Park flagpole as a forum of public speech. Thus, the city wouldn’t be obligated to fly other flags there if requested by other parties. McGillivary said the language “basically harpooned” Alger’s objections to putting a flag up at the Governmental Center and thanked Trible-Laucht for her work on the resolution.

> Commissioners approved changes to the city ordinance that will now allow platform cafes – or outdoor dining platforms that are constructed in city parking spaces outside of restaurants – to operate on the 100 and 200 blocks of Front Street. Platform cafes had previously been allowed in other parts of downtown and the city, but not on the main blocks of Front Street. The changes also raised the number of allowed platform cafes citywide from a maximum of 10 to 15, with cafes able to operate from April 1 to November 1.

> Finally, commissioners passed a resolution of opposition to Michigan House Bill 4722, which would take away the ability for local governments to regulate short-term vacation rentals in the state. While supporters of the bill have said it protects private property rights and allows homeowners to maximize the value of their homes, opponents (including many municipalities) have said it amounts to state overreach into local zoning control and could majorly disrupt housing markets in vacation destinations like Traverse City.  

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