Traverse City News and Events

GT County Commissioners Approve Bond Resolution For Roads, Proposal To Upgrade County Technology

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 2, 2021

Grand Traverse County commissioners Wednesday approved a bonding project that will improve nearly 5,000 feet of Acme Township roads, with property owners and the Grand Traverse County Road Commission to share project costs. County commissioners also approved a nearly $4 million proposal to overhaul the county’s technology as part of a five-year contract that will replace the county’s outdated governmental software with a new system for finance, human resources, and treasury operations.

The Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) is partnering with Acme Township to improve 4,866 feet of road, including Springbrook Drive, Westridge Drive, and Circle View Drive. The existing road surface will be pulverized and graded to form the base for an asphalt overlay. The $539,148 project will be financed by a combination of $153,235 in GTCRC funds and $385,913 in bonds. Those bonds will be paid back by property owners along the roads slated for reconstruction, with a vast majority agreeing to a special assessment district to fund the project. The estimated payment per parcel is $487 annually over the 15-year bond period.

County Finance Director Dean Bott told county commissioners that while GTCRC can enter into agreements and issue bonds for road improvement projects, those actions require the support of the county commission. “We are extending the county’s full faith and credit on this bond issue,” Bott cautioned, meaning the county would be on the hook if for some reason bond payments weren’t being made. However, Bott said that was an unlikely scenario given several checks and balances in place. Property owner payments will go toward the debt first through the special assessment district; if those funds for some reason didn’t come in or were insufficient, the county can intercept Michigan Transportation Funds that would otherwise go toward the Road Commission to make the bond payments.

Bott noted county commissioners approved a similar road project in Acme Township in 2015 to the tune of $900,000, and said “payments are being made” for that special assessment district without any issues today. Commission Chair Rob Hentschel said “there’s virtually no risk to the county” in the bonding project, and that using the county’s credit to back repair work is “a service we can offer to our townships.” Commissioner Darryl Nelson noted that support among property owners on Springbrook Drive, Westridge Drive, and Circle View Drive was “uniquely high” for the special assessment district, as homeowners in that area were anxious about road conditions and wanted to see them addressed.

County commissioners Wednesday also approved a nearly $4 million project to upgrade the county’s software technology as part of a five-year contract with software vendor Workday. Multiple county administrators and department heads over the years have complained about AS-400, the county’s current DOS-based system that is more than three decades old. Staff have expressed frustration about having to manually reenter duplicative information into the system across departments, not being able to generate reports or complete other essential software functions, and struggling to find IT employees still familiar with DOS who can manage the system. In 2016, a consulting firm flagged critical security risks in the county’s technology systems, and then-County Administrator Tom Menzel blamed AS-400 in hampering efforts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a key county budget database that year.

Commissioners Wednesday agreed to pay $2.1 million – more than $600,000 over a budgeted $1.5 million that had been planned for IT capital investment this year – to contract with Workday for the first year of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) subscription. ERP is a type of software often used by governments and other organizations to handle day-to-day functions like accounting, finance, human resources, and project management. The subscription will require subsequent payments in years two through five increasing annually from nearly $440,000 to $467,000, for a total investment over five years of $3.98 million.

County Administrator Nate Alger acknowledged that the software investment was a “big ticket item” for the county, but said the new system would eliminate redundancies and a significant amount of staff time currently consumed by AS-400. “It’s a big change, it’s going to be a major impact on the county,” he said. “It’s going to be transformative for us. It is a little more expensive than we expected it to be, but…this is what we feel the county needs to move forward at the pace that we want to move forward.” While Alger said commissioners will undoubtedly hear complaints from some employees and department heads as the software change is made in the coming months due to the magnitude of overhauling a county-wide system, he also said the county had “the right team” in place to make the transition, with multiple directors on the leadership team experienced with ERPs.

Hentschel echoed Alger’s remarks, saying it was necessary for the county to upgrade its technology and doing so now – with experienced staff on board and the county in a stable financial position – was the right move. “Ten years ago in my first term as a commissioner, we were talking about doing this. And the money wasn’t right, or the timing wasn’t right, and the IT director resigned,” Hentschel said. “Right now everything has come together. If we’re going to do this, which we have to do eventually anyways…you couldn’t ask for a better IT director and better timing to do this.”

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