Home > Economics, Grand Visioning, Hickory Hills, Parks and Recreation > Proposed Traverse City budget eliminates municipal ski hill operation

Proposed Traverse City budget eliminates municipal ski hill operation

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It’s budget time for the City of Traverse City. Exciting stuff! Well, sort-of. From the vantage point of an engaged citizen, it can be rather deflating watching departments fight for budgets, the City Manager try to give “just enough” information (or, perhaps signaling that he as well only has “enough” information), and City Commissioners pull their hair out to decipher the needs and actual status of the City coffers, all the while promoting their own agendas.

What often gets lost is that the budget ought to reflect the values of the community, not drive them.  

In past experiences, the discussions that take place in meetings are almost impossible to follow for observers only privy to a public memo or two.  As the process unfolds each new step seems to have another layer of vagueness and hamstrung-ness to it (I think I just made up a word). I suspect that even the decision makers feel a bit of that. I believe last year’s final budget meeting went well past midnight.

Still, this is where the direction for the next fiscal year happens and the least we can do as engaged citizens, is to weigh-in with the values and priorities that we wish to see represented in the City’s budget. I’ve not wrapped my head around it yet to make strong comments either-way, but this week City Manager Ben Bifoss released his recommendations for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The memo is readable and available under the “Government” drop-down heading on the City’s homepage (yes, not front page and not easily located). Or, download it here (PDF) or view it below–easy.

Key recommendations from the memo are: 

  • Reduction of staff beyond normal attrition in fire, police, and the streets/parks department.
  • A reduction in cemetery maintenance costs by, I assume, keeping it in-house.
  • Reduction in recreational costs by eliminating the operation of the ski program at Hickory Hills (this will be fun to watch)
  • A status quo, if not increases, for almost every other department. (Last year, then Mayor Chris Bzdok and Cmmn Mike Gillman made budget recommendations (Plan4TC) that may be informative to this year’s discussion.)

The meetings where the budget will be discussed aren’t solid yet, but a potential April 30th meeting is the earliest followed by a definite public hearing on May 7th, likely May 21st and at the latest a June 4th meeting, where the final version needs to be adopted. The memo is just a recommendation, the decision is solely up to the elected commissioners.

Certainly, more to come.

What are your first impressions?



  1. April 19, 2012 at 9:51 am

    GH: Thank you for bringing this to your blog for discussion. And for highlighting the items that stand out to you. It is a lot to take in for the average citizen.

    Agreed that the budget should reflect the community’s values.

  2. julie
    April 19, 2012 at 9:54 am

    What is the $20,000 increase for the assessing department? Thats ludicrous. Also where is the city marina?

  3. Mike Gaines
    April 19, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Good job Gary.

    One item that stands out to me in the ongoing discussion of how our tax dollars are spent here in the City of Traverse City is Hickory Hills.

    Hickory Hills is the oldest continuously operated ski hill in the State of Michigan – the state with more ski hills than any other – having just celebrated its 60th season. As a municiply operated ski hill, Hickory Hills is also a rarity in the United States enjoyed by generations of Northern Michiganders.

    The number of ski passes and ski tickets sold last season are at or near record levels; there were hundreds of kids in the Grand Traverse Ski Club programs alone this last season.

    Additionally, Hickory Hills is utilized by the Traverse City High School Ski Teams, the Traverse City Middle School ski teams, TC High School Nordic Ski Club, as well as other local schools and clubs. Literally thousands of people utilize and enjoy the Hickory Hills area year-round.

    The thought of eliminating this jewel of Traverse City infuriates me, especially when I see five grown men standing around putting in a stop sign…

  4. chrisbzdok
    April 19, 2012 at 11:31 am

    here are a few facts to help with the murkiness. Page #’s are budget page #’s, not page #’s of the pdf file.

    General Fund revenue summary – p 9, first line – general fund tax revenues are projected to be up from last year’s actual revenues by $81,000. Not down – up.

    page 10 shows that a total of $912,000 that would flow to the general fund are captured and held within the DDA district. While other local units of government essentially “match” that amount, it is worth asking whether at least some of that money should be redirected, given the relative abundance of resources spent downtown in comparison to everywhere else in the city.

    Dept Budgets summary – p 12 – here you can compare what each department believes it will have spent in the last year (“FY 11/12 projected”) with what they propose to spend this year (“FY 12/13 requested”). For example, while much will be made of “cuts” to the police and fire departments, the police budget is even with last year and the fire department budget is up $60,000 over last year. These numbers do not include pension costs (more on that below). Engineering is up $52,000 from last year.

    Act 345 millage summmary – p 20 – this is the police and fire pension fund. It is outside the general fund, and paid for with its own millage that increases automatically. In 2009-10, this millage was $950,000. This year, it’s projected to be over $1.6 million. That’s an almost $700,000 increase in three years.

    The city unfortunately is incapable of controlling the escalation of its costs from year to year, which consistently outpace inflation. Almost every other organization that still exists in 2012 has learned to do this. Layoffs are not driven by declining tax revenues, they are driven by escalating costs. The taxpayer pays more and more for gradually less and less. Last year, Commissioner Gillman and I did what we could to counteract this trend – with the support of the commission – but semi-volunteer representatives can only do so much.

    Scapegoating Hickory Hills and the History Center is hacky, it’s only going to be available one time, and it’s a drop in the bucket compared with the year over year increases in costs.

  5. Tim Werner
    April 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Quoting from City Manager Bifoss’ memo to the City Commission and Mayor:
    “Frankly, I cannot think of a justification to subsidize a recreational program when we are reducing personnel in key departments like Police and Fire.”

    Mr. Bzdok is being too kind in only calling this “hacky.” As a member of the City Planning Commission, I don’t believe I’m supposed to say what I think about the Manager’s professionalism.

  6. Jim Carruthers
    April 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I will not be supporting cutting Hickory Hills from the budget. I view it as a city asset and something worth saving. Think about this. The .7 mill tax cut we made last year works out to be a savings of about $54.75 per year for the average citizen whose average taxable value is based at $78,000. This works out to be $500,000 taken from the general fund. If we reinstated this tax on residents, the cost of one Latte per month, we would have $500,000 to work with and not have to cut Hickory Hills, the History Center or have to lay off city employees from this budget. Most people spend $60-80 per month on Cable TV. Is the $54.75 tax savings per year worth closing Hickory Hills? I’m not real sure it is myself. I will be fighting for Hickory Hills.

    Something else to consider. TIF 2 is up in 2017. This will transfer around $400,000 annually of currently captured taxes back to the General Fund. We could consider spending some of our Fund Balance (currently $4.3M) until this point to cover the loses with the capture of these taxes. This is not to mention the idea of tapping the Brownbridge Trust Fund dollars (about $13M) to cover costs. This would have to go before the citizens for a vote but in my opinion, fits the criteria for use of the funds.

  7. April 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you everyone for the comments. Nice to see a former Mayor and a City Commissioner weighing in. Note, the link to the 2012-2013 Annual Budget is now more than the memo(PDF), it also includes the 189 pages of budget specifics for your weekend reading enjoyment.

    I agree with Tim, that the City Manager is taking a very myopic view of the operations at Hickory Hills. The value to the community cohesion created with that programing improves the community far better than any single police officer position.

    To Cmmn Carruthers note about the Brownbridge Trust Fund, this is certainly something the Parks and Recreation Cmmn has discussed in the past. There is certainly an argument to be made that developing a plan for $2-3 million from the fund be targeted towards community improvements and establishment of a long-term strategy for parkland and recreational programing. For a City like our own, which markets itself on a high quality of living, to not have a strong, independent Parks and Recreation Department is silly. That said, in my opinion, that money should be used proactively and not reactively to a perceived budget problem. Still, certainly worthy of consideration and good to hear a City Commissioner interested in it.

    More to come on this issue, for sure.

    NOTE: Several comments have been unapproved due to the corrosive content and tone. It is unfortunate, because any valuable points and contributions to the discussion they may lend are lost in the contemptuous framing directed at other commentators. An attempt was made to reach them, but the emails provided were fake and they chose to remain anonymous.

    For readers’ review, Comment Policy.

  8. Greg
    April 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Maybe we should slice the budgets of the Planning Department and the Parks & Rec Department all together. These two groups seem to be driven by their own agenda and not the majority of residents. It appears they sit back and try to figure out where and how to spend more tax payer’s money instead of being grateful for what we already have.

    I noticed in the Record Eagle’s April 18th on line poll asked “What feature of TC”s Bayfront redesign are you most looking forward to”. As of 8:30 am April 19th, 24 hours after being released, the majority of respondents 43 % said they do not want the Bayfront redesigned at all. Coming in second was Expand the Restrooms at 23%. None of the new amenities our Parks and Rec & Planning Departments; Splash Pool, Rainfall Fountain, Artesian Well, Concession Stand or Terraces scored in double digits. Think of how much money we could have saved the Tax Payer’s if we would have left it alone and built a few more bathrooms. After over 5 years of looking into it, last Monday it was discovered the Artesian Well water can’t come into contact with Human skin. The well was one of the main reasons we had to move the train. I would have thought that someone, our City Planner or consulting Engineering Firm would have done their due diligence and looked into this sooner. Instead of years of $’s going into designs, could the little train have stayed and kept the kids happy? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    We are currently spending money on a corridor study that asks in a poll to look at multiple pictures and vote 1-5 what is most appealing. This makes no sense, it is just another touchy feel good way of thinking instead of logic and I believe it will be used to put more zoning restrictions on Private Property owners, wrong direction to be headed. Too much power has been given to these unelected boards and they feel Traverse City is a horrible place to live without us improving it.

  9. Greg
    April 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Jim, I’ll be sure to tell my folks you think their taxes should go up and just stop drinking lattes. Really over used phrase, there are quite a few people in this world (and town) who have never had a latte, including myself and parents who are on a fixed income, I’ll let you know their response if it’s civil enough and won’t hurt someones feelings

  10. Matt
    April 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Never wanted a tax cut. Just goes to show you there is never a tax cut without a cut in services,jobs,or programs.

  11. Will
    April 22, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Why does Mr Bzdok keep wanting to cut the people that serve this community 24 hrs a day?
    Why not look into the planning, assessing and bloated “staff'” that serves only when need be?
    The wasted dollars on Grand vision and its social engineering has made this a place of new age urban wannabes and longtime local go to work and make it possible folks for them to be hhere.

  12. Max
    April 23, 2012 at 10:11 am

    For once I agree with you, Greg. I saw in the Record Eagle they also propose to raise the water sewer rates. They just raised them fairly recently, and quite a bit too. Right now the base rate seems to be $40/month, so there’s no way to reduce use and have the bill drop. This is a high price for people on fixed income like seniors and disabled as well as unemployed and underemployed. I think the city needs to be very mindful about the poorer people in the community when they make these decisions because decisions to raise taxes and utility rates disproportionately affects those people.

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