Traverse City News and Events

Police Advisory Committee, Full-Time Hickory Manager, New Vision For Senior Center Property Recommended In City Budget

By Beth Milligan | May 6, 2021

Traverse City commissioners will have their first in-depth discussion about the proposed 2021-22 city budget Monday – a draft that includes recommendations from the city manager to form a new community advisory committee for the Traverse City Police Department, hire a full-time manager to oversee expanding recreational and revenue opportunities at Hickory Hills, and plan for a possible new future at the city-owned Senior Center property if Grand Traverse County departs the site.

City Manager Marty Colburn will review the draft budget with commissioners next week ahead of a scheduled May 17 public hearing, with adoption slated for early June. Colburn says 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 plan to apply for potentially millions in low-interest state loans this summer to address urgent water and sewer repairs throughout the city.

Under the police and fire/emergency services section of the budget, Colburn states that “national events this past year have demonstrated the need for outreach throughout the community” on policing issues, including dialoguing with “underrepresented communities” and addressing topics of mental health and social justice. In addition to recent steps of purchasing body cameras and mandating implicit bias training at the TCPD, Colburn is recommending forming an advisory community policing committee to advise the city manager and TCPD chief.

Colburn tells The Ticker the city is only at “the beginning of the discussion” about how such a committee would be structured and who would serve on it, but sees it as an “important and valued component” of building public trust by offering a feedback mechanism on policing from local stakeholders. TCPD Chief Jeff O’Brien says he’s 100 percent supportive of the proposal, noting it reflects best practices recommended by the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. O’Brien declined to share his thoughts on how such a committee should be structured, saying he wants feedback from the public and commissioners to shape the committee instead of it being shaped by the TCPD. “The end goal is to build public trust,” he says. “That’s what community policing is all about.”

The 2021-22 draft budget also calls for hiring new staff in several city departments, as well as raising some utility rates The city cut 16 seasonal staff positions last year as a precautionary measure during the pandemic, and kept water and sewer rates the same for residents – in addition to dismissing several months’ worth of penalties – due to concerns over high unemployment rates. With the economy recovering, staff are recommending raising water and sewer rates by three percent this year to keep up with inflation and infrastructure needs. Several city staff positions are also recommended to be added, including an engineering aide, fire department administrative assistant, communications specialist, street department equipment operator, and a full-time Hickory Hills manager.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Derek Melville says that last position will likely pay for itself, with the idea being to hire someone full-time who will manage and expand private venue rentals and events at Hickory Hills to generate revenue and help the park become more self-sustaining. “Everyone is aware of the growth we’ve had at Hickory, with the new lodge and new skiing amenities, but there is certainly a lot more potential for growth out there on a year-round basis,” he says. “We have the ability to do 26 events per year, mountain biking is on the horizon, we are getting ready to add another 18 holes of disc golf. And there is the potential for us to do even more with skiing. But it requires someone to manage all this.” As interest increases in holding weddings and other events with gathering restrictions lifting – particularly for this fall and next summer – a full-time manager will be able to provide tours of available rental spaces and “help showcase the property, which our existing staff levels don’t really allow us to do,” Melville says.

City staff are also paying close attention to another city park in next year’s budget: the Senior Center property on East Front Street. After talks collapsed between the city and Grand Traverse County – which uses the site for senior programming – to put a millage on the ballot to fund a new building, Colburn says the county has “signaled that they don’t intend to use the current facilities for more than the next few years. We have been told they would like a short-term extension of the current use agreement of the city building that houses senior activities until they determine what and where to build new county facilities.” Colburn is accordingly recommending budgeting funds to conduct a “visioning planning process on how to best utilize the Senior park for future use,” an anticipated two-year process.

Melville says the park “is a property that has a lot of potential” given that it’s a large waterfront parcel right downtown with a beach and numerous large, leafy shade trees. “If the Senior Center does not happen at that property, that certainly would provide for a lot of dreaming to happen,” Melville says. “The Parks and Recreation commission would be involved in that visioning process and helping determine what it looks like in the short term with the existing building in place, and what it could look like without a building on the property.” Whatever happens, Melville says, the property would continue to be used for public recreation/park use. Under the city charter, a vote would be required for anything different to happen on the site.

Other aspects of the draft budget that could be discussed Monday including the potential impact of the 2020 U.S. Census – which could define the region as a Metropolitan Planning Organization and qualify it for new federal streets, roads, bridges, and public transportation funds – as well as recommendations from Colburn to consider making “financial charter amendments” to address negative impacts on city finances from the Headlee Amendment. The budget also allocates funds to write a new city master plan, and recommends establishing an ad hoc committee this year to explore establishing a city stormwater utility – an initiative that would likely require the future approval of city voters.

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