Traverse City News and Events

Fiber Loan, Hazard Pay, Cherry Festival Top City Agenda

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 5, 2020

Traverse City commissioners will consider approving a loan to Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) for the expansion of the utility’s fiber launch, participating in a state program that could extend hazard pay to city first responders, and approving a 2022-2023 agreement with the National Cherry Festival. Those are just some of the topics on the commission’s agenda for Tuesday, with the board meeting a day later than usual due to the Labor Day holiday.

Fiber Loan
Commissioners will consider approving a five-year, $800,000 interfund loan from the city’s economic development fund to TCLP to expand the launch of the utility’s fiber-to-the-premise project. TCLP is in the process of rolling out “Phase One” of its communitywide fiber Internet project, which will extend service to roughly 2,200 customers to start in the downtown area, including Central and Boardman neighborhoods, Eighth Street, Lake Street, and Woodmere Avenue. TCLP, which is nearing the end of its cash reserves for Phase One, is seeking a funding boost to include more than 1,000 additional customers in the launch. Those addresses would be south of Front Street, north of Fourteenth Street, east of Division Street, and west of Cass Street. The expansion would mean roughly one quarter of TCLP’s total customers would have access to fiber Internet as part of the initial launch.

According to TCLP Executive Director Tim Arends, adding more customers to the launch will allow the utility to pay back its deployment costs more quickly. TCLP is estimating a 40 percent take – or sign-up – rate from new customers, including business and residential clients. In a memo to TCLP board members, Arends said borrowing funds now would allow contractors already working on the fiber project to keep going, cutting down on remobilization fees. The expansion would also “utilize the existing data center put in place for Phase One, and would not require another data center to acquire more customers,” he wrote. The targeted expansion area consists of mostly overhead utility work; that would allow construction to continue into the fall and winter, unlike underground construction, which the city has restrictions on between November and April.

City Manager Marty Colburn is recommending approval of the interfund loan with a 2.71 percent interest rate (.71% is the rate for the prevailing U.S. Treasury note, with two percent added consistent with the city’s policy for special improvement districts, Colburn notes). “Providing this loan to Traverse City Light and Power from the city's economic development fund will assist TCLP in moving this meaningful initiative forward, which will provide many enhancements to the community, including: attracting new talent to the area through the provision of stable and robust connectivity for those who work from home, support(ing) educational efforts provided through virtual classrooms/online learning, (and) creation of jobs in the region,” Colburn said in a memo to city commissioners.

Hazard Pay
Traverse City first responders in the city’s fire and police departments could receive up to $1,000 each in hazard pay under a state program, provided city commissioners approve applying for the funds Tuesday.

Michigan’s First Responders Hazard Pay Premiums Program has $100 million set aside to distribute hazard pay up to $1,000 per eligible employee in communities across the state. The funding is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The City of Traverse City has 30 law enforcement and 25 fire department employees who could be eligible for the funding.

According to Colburn, the city originally didn’t qualify for the program because it doesn’t provide hazard pay through any of its collective bargaining agreements. The state program was set up as a reimbursement program for hazard pay. However, the Michigan Department of Treasury has since modified the program to allow communities to request an advance payment of hazard pay and then disburse those monies to employees. If Traverse City is approved for any funding amount, it will distribute funds equally among eligible employees up to $1,000 each, Colburn says.

National Cherry Festival Agreement
Commissioners will consider approving an agreement with the National Cherry Festival outlining terms for the festival’s 2022 and 2023 events. City and festival leaders typically negotiate agreements on two-year cycles, with terms worked out well in advance of the actual events. In a memo to commissioners, City Clerk Benjamin Marentette emphasized that – given the uncertainty of the pandemic, which caused this year’s festival to be cancelled – the agreement is subject to the actual issuance of permits by his office, which can be withheld or terminated for public health or safety reasons if needed.

Marentette says recent additions to the contract include requiring using a central command featuring dedicated dispatchers for emergency purposes during the festival, implementing a hazard vulnerability evaluation of the event prepared by Grand Traverse County Emergency Management, having more waste collection vehicles to follow parades for faster cleanup so streets can be more quickly reopened, and having stricter barricade requirements and more barricade locations in place for public safety. The 2022 festival is scheduled to take place July 2-9, while the 2023 event is slated for July 1-8. Marentette notes that he and National Cherry Festival Executive Director Kat Paye “have both discussed extensively that the festival may look very different in future years.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting…
Commissioners will consider approving two election-related items, including the purchase of a high-speed tabulator for tabulating absentee ballots on Election Day. Approximately half the cost of the nearly $37,000 machine will be covered by the state through funds distributed from the CARES Act, with the remaining half coming out of the city’s general fund. The “tremendous uptick in voters choosing to cast their ballot via absentee ballot” necessitates the machine purchase, Colburn says. Marentette adds that the machine can process ballots at five times the speed of the city’s existing equipment. “Purchasing this tabulator will assist the city in reporting results (in a) much more timely (manner),” according to Marentette. “Often, at higher volume elections especially, we have to re-tabulate an entire precinct's worth of absentee ballots at least once, in order to balance and account for all ballots (because of jamming, worker error, etc.).” Without the high-capacity machine, Marentette says it could be “nearly impossible for (the city) to report results in a timely fashion” this year. According to Michigan law, final tabulation of absentee ballots can only take place on Election Day.

Marentette is also requesting that commissioners Tuesday enact a policy stating that commission meetings will not be held on the night before an election unless requested by the city manager or three commissioners. Marentette says a typical Election Day for his team is at least 20 hours. Having commission meetings the night before an election – a regular occurrence in past years – puts a strain on staff, according to Marentette, during a time “when the ability to focus is paramount for making sure we get things done right on such an important task.”

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