Traverse City News and Events

County To Talk Keystone, COA, Employee Cuts

Feb. 14, 2017

Grand Traverse County commissioners will consider selling off 36 acres of county land on Keystone and Birmley roads, reversing a millage rollback for the county’s Commission on Aging, and reducing benefit cuts for certain county employees at their 5:30pm meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Governmental Center.

Keystone/Birmley Property
Efforts to sell off a handful of undeveloped county properties – getting the parcels back on tax rolls and providing a cash infusion to the county – have attracted at least one serious offer from an interested buyer.

Commissioners will review a $400,000 offer from Petoskey business owner Robert Drost to purchase three dozen acres at the southeast corner of Keystone and Birmley roads (pictured). The parcel is listed with Mike Street of Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors, who put the property on the market on the county’s behalf in mid-January for $525,000. The sale is contingent upon rezoning approval from Garfield Township to allow for the operation of a landscaping company at the site. Drost owns Drost Landscape, a Petoskey-based landscape design, construction and maintenance firm servicing northern Michigan.

Commissioners will decide whether to authorize the sale, hold out for a better offer and/or establish an ad hoc committee to negotiate both the Keystone sale and any future property sales. “I’m going to present them with the offer, as well as a process that could take care of a lot of negotiations going forward,” says County Administrator Tom Menzel. “There could be a portion of the board that handles negotiations, and then once that due diligence is done, brings the proposal to the full board for approval.”

In a memo to county officials, Street noted that Drost’s $400,000 offer is “the buyer’s limit.” Though a significant decrease from the listing price, Street also cautioned in an earlier assessment of the parcel that “there are some challenges presented with this property that do have an effect on market value.”

“First, the lack of municipal water and sewer creates a larger minimum lot size required by the township, thus reducing the number of allowable units for development,” Street wrote. “Secondly, the location is close to town but not as desirable as some other recent multi-family and residential developments. Thirdly, the presence of the railroad tracks along the Keystone Road frontage is not desirable in that it restricts access and limits development.”

Menzel says he hopes to have an estimate from the county’s Equalization Department Wednesday on the amount of taxes the property would generate for the county annually if returned to tax rolls. He also hopes to discuss earmarking proceeds from a sale toward reducing the county’s pension debt and investing in IT infrastructure.

Commission On Aging
Commissioner Cheryl Gore Follette has requested that her fellow board members Wednesday consider reversing a December decision to roll back a millage for the Commission on Aging (COA).

Follette’s recommendation follows a decision by commissioners last week to keep COA under county management after Comfort Keepers withdrew a proposal to manage the department, citing “disparaging remarks” made about the company and its employees during public debate about the proposal. “It’s obvious that a much better understanding of all of the issues facing the COA, as well as the options available to address them, is needed before it will make sense to consider any proposal for services,” Comfort Keepers owners Russ and Leslie Knopp wrote in a memo to the board.

Commissioners vowed instead to invest in the department and give county employees “the tools to succeed” in running COA internally, in the words of Chair Carol Crawford. “I think that we can do this. We can build this from the ground up, and we can do it the right way,” she said. Gore Follette said she’ll make a motion Wednesday to reverse the board’s December decision to cut COA’s millage from .5 mills to .33735 mills a move that would have returned nearly $750,000 to taxpayers’ pockets.

“We may find we need those millage dollars,” Gore Follette said. “I would like to ask for that vote as a public recognition that we are committed to improving the COA and using those resources – if we need them – wisely.”

Employee Benefit Cuts
Finally, commissioners will discuss scaling back benefit cuts for nearly a dozen non-contract county employees who were recently required to start contributing 10 percent of their salaries toward their defined benefit plans. The move affected long-time employees such as Dianne Thompson of the county’s department of public works and Prosecuting Attorney Bob Cooney, both of whom blasted the cuts and the financial hardships they imposed at a recent county strategy session. “I can say without a doubt that this is the most toxic work environment that I’ve ever been involved in in 37 years of working,” Cooney said.

Menzel says staff Wednesday will present financial data to commissioners showing the impact of reducing the salary contributions from 10 percent to 6 percent – a move that would match contribution rates recently negotiated with some unionized staff. Menzel also says commissioners will have a closed-door session with the county’s labor attorney March 22 to get a “complete overview” of discussions and strategies related to the ongoing union negotiations and proposed benefit levels.

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