Traverse City News and Events

City Prepares To Talk Fire Department, Parks Funding, Budget

By Beth Milligan | May 21, 2019

Traverse City commissioners are gearing up to make several key decisions in the coming weeks, including hiring a consultant to study expanding the city’s fire department services, asking voters to approve another round of funding for city parks, and approving the city’s 2019-2020 budget.

Commissioners reviewed each of those topics at their Monday meeting ahead of anticipated votes in early and mid-June. Both the fire department study and city budget are scheduled to be voted on June 3, while the commission will hold a separate study session on June 10 to discuss parks funding before voting as soon as June 17 on whether to send that issue to the ballot this fall.

Regarding the fire department, commissioners will consider hiring consulting firm TriData LLC for $32,300 to study the feasibility of expanding city fire department services to include Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance service and emergency transportation. According to a city request-for-proposals (RFP) packet, North Flight has served as the primary provider of ALS ambulance service for Traverse City since 2002, with the city fire department becoming outfitted in 2008 to serve as a secondary transport option. The department handled 52 patient transportation cases in 2017, and has expressed interest for “many years” in becoming the primary provider of ALS ambulance services within the city, the RFP states.

TriData was the lowest of seven bidders who submitted proposals to conduct the feasibility study, which will analyze if it is “fiscally and operationally feasible” for the Traverse City Fire Department to provide first-response ALS ambulance service. The study will look at the costs of adding that service, as well as a proposed rate structure if it does so. The RFP calls for the study to be completed within four months of contract approval. Commissioners were initially set to approve the contract Monday, but a copy of TriData’s proposal was not included in their packet – only the company’s bid price – so the board delayed the vote in order to have time to fully review the company’s proposal.

Commissioners Monday also briefly reviewed a longer in-depth discussion planned next month on seeking voter approval this fall to renew funding for city parks. Residents in 2014 approved establishing the Brown Bridge Trust Parks Improvement Fund, a special fund that uses money from oil and gas royalties to pay for city park projects. The proposal capped the city’s Brown Bridge Trust Fund – which is funded by revenues from oil and gas exploration rights and royalties at the 1,300-acre Brown Bridge Quiet Area – at $12 million and directed any additional dollars that came in over the next five years to a dedicated account for park projects. The fund’s total capture is likely to be near $2 million at the end of the five-year period this fall, and has paid for projects including the multi-million-dollar Hickory Hills Ski Area overhaul and Clancy Park, Lay Park, Wags West, and Brown Bridge Quiet Area improvements.

At their June 10 study session, commissioners will consider recommendations from an ad hoc committee to seek voter approval to renew the fund this fall. Options could include capping the oil fund at $12 million again and transferring the excess into the parks fund for another five years – the same process as before – or instead capping the fund at $11 million upfront and making an immediate one-time transfer of the excess funds into a separate account for parks. Commissioner Richard Lewis, who sits on the ad hoc committee, said there has been “lively” debate among members about both options. But he said in either scenario, the committee hoped commissioners would consider the group’s recommendation to approve a specific list of park projects that would get top priority for new funding.

“If the electorate approves moving forward with continuing the program, there are certain projects out at Brown Bridge as well as in our pocket parks that we would like to see get fully funded without any type of (required outside) matches,” Lewis said. The list covers parks including Indian Woods, Jupiter Gardens, Boon Street, Ashton, F&M, Arbutus Court, and Highland. Lewis noted the committee is recommending that no park project be allowed to access more than $250,000 in funding “regardless of how good it is,” in order to spread available funds out to as many parks as possible. “We figured that the big parks have access to grants…and our pocket parks need some attention,” Lewis said.

Commissioners Monday also reviewed the proposed 2019-20 budget, which they will vote to approve June 3 – their required deadline under the city's charter. In addition to previously discussed key items – such as proposed new firefighter and police positions next year and increased water and sewer rates for residents – City Manager Marty Colburn highlighted a few recent changes to the latest draft budget. Those include $180,000 in new general fund spending, including $10,000 on promotional campaigns to fight opioid abuse, addiction, and other health-related issues and $70,000 to increase renewable energy spending to meet the city's goal of powering 100 percent of city operations with clean energy by 2020.

Another $100,000 is earmarked in that spending for increased tree maintenance and plantings next year and the addition of a full-time city staff position dedicated to trees. Commissioners expressed their support for all of the expenditures, but noted they wanted to work with staff at future meetings on creating detailed plans for how the renewable energy funds will be spent and a specific job description for the city tree position.

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