Traverse City News and Events

Twin Lakes Is Now Long Lake Township's Park

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 7, 2023

The transfer of Twin Lakes Park from Grand Traverse County to Long Lake Township is expected to become official today (Thursday), with County Commission Chair Rob Hentschel set to sign the deed over to township officials. County commissioners discussed the transfer and what’s next for the park at their Wednesday meeting, where they also discussed more than $3.7 million in debt – and rising – that the county is covering for the Pavilions and exploring options if the nursing home facility can’t become self-sustaining.

Twin Lakes Transfer
Nearly 18 months after a previous board of Grand Traverse County commissioners voted – in a split decision – to give the county-owned Twin Lakes Park to Long Lake Township, that transfer is set to become a reality.

County Administrator Nate Alger told commissioners Wednesday that attorneys and a title agency have been assisting on a “long, cumbersome process” to line up the park transfer between the county and township. Commissioners voted Wednesday to take a county ordinance regulating Twin Lakes Park off the books, a bit of final housekeeping before Commission Chair Rob Hentschel is expected to sign over the deed on behalf of the county to Long Lake Township today.

Commissioners who supported the transfer previously noted that Twin Lakes Park was losing money annually for the county and could be better maintained by the township, which will still preserve it as an open public park and plans to invest in additional amenities and programming. Other commissioners believed that rentals at Twin Lakes Park were slow because of the pandemic and would likely increase going forward, worrying that giving it away would eliminate an essential revenue stream for the county Parks and Recreation department.

Meanwhile, Long Lake Township is already working on improvements. Under the transfer terms, Grand Traverse County will pay just over $124,000 to the township for immediate park upkeep. Township Supervisor Ron Lemcool says those funds and another $126,000 the township recently netted for selling property on Cedar Run Road will help pay for roof repairs to the dorm, lodge, and Oleson cabin at Twin Lakes this fall. Other maintenance like landscaping, grading, painting, building repairs, and sewer improvements are either underway or expected soon, Lemcool says.

The future of the nonprofit YouthWork program – currently housed in the dorm at Twin Lakes – is still up in the air. Lemcool says mixing office space and residential rentals in the dorm doesn’t make sense long-term, with the township hoping to eventually rent out the space YouthWork currently inhabits. However, Lemcool says the township wants to find another space for the organization on the property. “Our goal is to keep them in the park,” he says. However, Lemcool says he’s aware that YouthWork has an option for another site on Cedar Run Road – a possibility county staff and commissioners also referenced Wednesday. YouthWork Director Bill Watson tells The Ticker it’s “too soon in our process” to talk about the organization’s future, but acknowledged the “township is letting us stay if we need to for now” and that he anticipates needing to evacuate the dorm by winter or early spring.

Long Lake Township is honoring all event rentals previously booked for Twin Lakes and will soon launch its own website to continue bookings, according to Lemcool. He says there will not be any difference in county and non-county resident rental rates, as non-county users tend to find friends or family members who live in the county to secure the booking anyway. He anticipates a committee will soon launch to look at opportunities to expand programming and amenities; ideas already up for consideration include adding sledding and rustic camping.

The Pavilions
The Grand Traverse Pavilions is struggling to pay its bills – due largely to rising costs and not having enough residents to sustain long-term operations – and has borrowed $3.7 million from the county as of August 31. County Administrator Nate Alger tells The Ticker that debt is continuing to accumulate, including a payroll recently posting for roughly $605,000 – with commissioners forming an ad hoc committee Wednesday to evaluate options for the Pavilions going forward.

Pavilions staff believe that the debt can be relieved, pointing to the facility's potential eligibility for $6.1 million plus interest in Employee Retention Credit (ERC) reimbursement, according to Alger. However, Alger says that amount is in the process of being audited and could be denied by the IRS. The IRS has already rejected reimbursement for at least two other facilities in a similar situation. If the Pavilions is denied, it could appeal the IRS decision – but even a successful appeal would add delays to funds coming in. The Pavilions is also expected to receive a $1.2 million Medicaid payment for the period of October 2021 to September 2022, Alger says, but that figure was “anticipated to be higher initially.”

Commissioners expressed frustration Wednesday that the accumulating deficit – and the county’s covering of that debt – wasn’t brought to their attention sooner. County Finance Director Dean Bott said it wasn’t unusual for the county to cover deficits for a particular account out of its general fund – say, to temporarily cover a gap until expected payments come in – but acknowledged it was “unusual” for a deficit to extend beyond 30 days (the Pavilions debt has been accumulating for months). Alger said Pavilions representatives thought they could be back in the black by November, but said he had “no confidence” in that timeline.

Commissioners agreed to establish an ad hoc committee – comprised of Hentschel and Commissioners TJ Andrews and Darryl Nelson – to evaluate options for the Pavilions. Alger said those could include waiting to see if the financial situation improves – though he noted there’s a point at which the county “is going to have to protect our assets” – or considering bringing in an emergency manager or someone else to oversee operations. An extreme option could involve ending the Pavilions altogether and liquidating its assets, though Alger noted that would require displacing approximately 135 residents in addition to employees and would not be an option to consider lightly.

“This board needs to have all the options in front of it,” Hentschel said, saying the ad hoc commitee would “deep dive into those options” and bring recommendations back to the commission. The Pavilions is also set to potentially present its own plan to commissioners for discussion on September 20; the facility has already been working on steps to improve its financial picture, including an increase in monthly rates. In addition to working on the Pavilions specifically, commissioners also made a motion Wednesday to have staff draft a general finance policy for future approval that would automatically alert commissioners when county accounts go into a negative balance.

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