Traverse City News and Events

Water Projects, Early Voting, PILOT Policy on City Agenda

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 4, 2023

Traverse City commissioners will vote tonight (Monday) on approving contracts for significant water and sewer infrastructure projects, changes related to city voting precincts and early in-person voting locations in 2024, and updates to the city’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) policy to set a construction timeline on renovation projects and provide a formula for calculating PILOT payments.

Water/Sewer Projects
Major planned sewer and water infrastructure projects in Traverse City could move ahead under contracts up for commission approval tonight.

The first is a “large-scale project” to upgrade the front half of the treatment processes and the final treatment stage – UV disinfection – at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, according to Director of Municipal Utilities Art Krueger. The project’s estimated cost is between $23.5 and $29 million, with the city seeking loan funding through the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

“The last time a project of this magnitude was embarked upon at the treatment plant was in 2002, when the bio-reactor membrane treatment trains were installed, which utilized a design-build approach and cost over $31 million,” according to Krueger. “That project was financed using municipal bonds, which were recently paid off this past year.”

Commissioners will vote to approve a $54,000 contract – a fee that includes a 10 percent contingency – with consulting firm Hubbell Roth & Clark to oversee the preliminary design stage for the progressive buildout of the treatment improvements. The design stage is expected to take up to a year. The treatment upgrades represent a significant part of approximately $48 million in water and sewer improvements planned in the city over a five-year period.

Another of those projects – upgrades to a water booster station on Wayne Hill – could also move forward tonight. The booster station, which helps deliver safe drinking water to a service area that includes Wayne Street, Incochee Farms, Morgan Farms, Leelanau Flats, and The Moorings, hasn’t been improved since 2006. Approximately 211 homes are served by the station, a number that could increase to 550 homes in the future with neighborhood buildouts. The booster station is suffering from reliability, energy efficiency, and pressure issues that have at times resulted in boil-water notices being issued.

The city was originally approved for a $544,000 state loan for the project, with $163,200 of that to be waived in loan forgiveness. However, the construction bid came back at $1.226 million, almost double the engineering estimate. The bid was therefore rejected, and the loan amount offered by the state turned down. By not having to adhere to bid requirements required by the state, the city was able to rebid the project itself and received a $722,000 low bid from Grand Traverse Construction. City commissioners will be asked to approve that construction contract tonight, which will be paid out of the city’s water fund. Commissioners will also vote to approve an $80,000 contract with Hubbell Roth & Clark for construction engineering services for the project.

Voting Precincts
Commissioners will vote on several proposed changes to city voting precincts in 2024. The first is designating the Governmental Center as the city’s early in-person voting site. Michigan voters in 2022 amended the state’s constitution to give themselves the right to early in-person voting in all federal and state elections, as well as to have the option for early in-person voting at other elections as determined by local officials. “My intention is to provide early in-person voting at all elections, including local elections, in order to provide consistency,” City Clerk Benjamin Marentette wrote to city commissioners.

Marentette explains that early in-person voting “is not the same as absentee voting.” With early in-person voting, voters bring their ballots to the early in-person voting site and put them into tabulators. “This provides the voter the opportunity to cast their ballot in person before election day and to make a correction to their ballot where they may have unknowingly made an error,” Marentette wrote. “In addition, at early in-person voting sites, voters who were mailed an absentee ballot would also be able to insert their ballot into the tabulator, or they could simply provide it to the local clerk to have it tabulated by the absent voter counting board.”

Early in-person voting must be provided for at least nine days – beginning the second Saturday before the election through the Sunday before the election – and for eight hours per day for all statewide and federal elections, according to Marentette (hours for local elections can be more flexible). The city’s first early-in person voting will start with the February 27 presidential primary election. The cafeteria in the lower level of the Governmental Center will be used for early in-person voting.

Commissioners will also vote tonight on relocating Precinct 7 from Traverse Heights Elementary School to the Traverse Area District Library on Woodmere Avenue and Precinct 10 from Glenn Loomis to the Carnegie building on Sixth Street. Traverse City Area Public Schools has expressed a desire to stop hosting polling locations at its schools for security reasons. Marentette said a mailing will go out to all city voters notifying them about early in-person voting procedures, as well as notifying affected voters about precinct relocations.

PILOT Policy
Finally, commissioners will vote tonight on making two changes to the city’s recently adopted payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) policy. A PILOT agreement allows a developer to pay a percentage of rental income to the city instead of traditional taxes to offset the costs associated with developing affordable housing. The city’s PILOT policy applies to projects “developed or rehabilitated for workforce housing for persons and families whose household income is not greater than 120 percent of area median income.”

The policy states that construction on a new PILOT housing project must generally occur within 18 months. Commissioners will consider updating that language tonight to extend that same timeline to renovation projects. Commissioners will also vote on an amendment to the city policy to include a calculation for PILOT payments. The calculation is based on a federal formula for housing tax credits. Specifying how the PILOT payment is calculated will help provide “transparency and consistency” in the city policy, according to City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht.

Photo Credit: Jacobs (operating firm for Traverse City's wastewater treatment plant)

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