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      Traverse City leaders discuss budget priorities

      City infrastructure will likely be the focus as the TC Commission begins its budget discussions.

      City infrastructure was the focus as the Traverse City Commission budget discussions for the next fiscal year. Monday's meeting began the discussion regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget.

      "My operating assumption is that infrastructure continues to be a top City Commission priority," said City Manager R. Ben Bifoss. And Commissioners found themselves agreeing on that priority.

      Previously spending $1.1 million, Mayor Michael Estes said increasing the budget to $1.5 million is simply keeping the pace. This move would increase property taxes, but commissioners say it's a minor amount in view of the entire budget. Many commissioners agree that maintaining roads, sidewalks, bike paths and parks keeps the area beautiful, and say it's the reason residents stay and tourists keep coming back.

      "We've added more lanes for bicyclists, there's less wear and tear on your car because city streets are in better shape, and we've added sidewalks in places where there were no sidewalks," said Mayor Michael Estes. "And the bottom line is there's probably nothing more we could do better to increase the value of your personal property than to deal with the issue of infrastructure."

      Another mutual understanding upon commissioners is improvements along Division street. Issues taken off the table: cuts in public safety, like the Metro Fire Department. Maintaining the History Center and city-owned Hickory Hills Ski Area also stood front and center.

      Bifoss and Estes said, unlike last year, they feel optimistic. This is just the beginning of budget talks, and no final decisions have been made yet.

      Bifoss said he will have more concrete numbers by mid-April and hopes to approve the new budget by late May.

      City Manager R. Ben Bifoss also announced his retirement at Monday's meeting. He will work through June 28, 2013.