GT County Commissioners To Discuss Twin Lakes Ownership, Funding For Jail Mental Health & Part-Time Employee Healthcare
By Beth Milligan | Jan. 3, 2022
Grand Traverse County commissioners will kick off the new year with two meetings Wednesday, including a regular meeting where they’ll discuss the possible transfer of ownership of Twin Lakes Park from the county to Long Lake Township and funding for jail mental health services and healthcare for part-time employees. That meeting will be preceded by an organizational meeting in which commissioners will vote on new board rules, 2022 meeting dates and times, and commissioner appointments for the coming year.
Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation commissioners voted in December to turn down a proposal from Long Lake Township to take over ownership and maintenance of Twin Lakes Park (pictured). However, county commissioners have ultimate say over approving or denying an ownership transfer and will review the proposal Wednesday. Long Lake Township Supervisor Ron Lemcool decided to revive the conversation about Twin Lakes – a recurring topic in past decades – after township leaders recently went through a future planning process and noted activity increase at other township parks. “Our parks in Long Lake Township are very full…one of the things we’ve looked at with Twin Lakes is how do we enhance that park and make more use of the property at the park?” Lemcool previously told The Ticker.
As part of its proposal, Long Lake Township is seeking continued annual funding of $50,000 from Grand Traverse County for four years toward “continued maintenance and enhancements,” a request that rubbed some Parks and Recreation commissioners the wrong way. Board President Alisa Korn said the funding request was “off the table,” adding that “we literally don’t have (the money)…we don’t have the tools to negotiate your request.” Korn said if Parks and Recreation did have that type of funding available, the department would already be investing it back into the park.
In presentation materials, Lemcool said Long Lake would make a number of improvements to upgrade community usage at Twin Lakes as part of the transfer. Potential uses include using a park cabin to create a satellite library for Long Lake Township, holding a music festival on the lawn near Gilbert Lodge, establishing a sledding hill and warming firepits, creating a single track for fat-tire/mountain biking, having a fishing pier on North Twin Lakes, and acquiring “some small pieces of property around the park to add a buffer to help prevent future township growth from getting closer to the park.” Long Lake’s proposal also calls for potential upgrades to on-site cabins, dorms, and Gilbert Lodge, such as kitchen and deck enhancements that would accommodate more events and offer an “expanded outdoor experience with better lake views.”
Parks and Recreation commissioners ultimately voted to continue operating Twin Lakes as a county park, with the caveat that county commissioners could separately take up the proposal and/or Parks and Recreation could revisit the idea in the future. “It’s not a brick wall,” Korn said of the board’s December decision. County Commissioner Penny Morris, who sits on the Parks and Recreation board, said her ultimate goal would be to ensure Parks and Recreation didn’t lose funding from its budget if an ownership transfer ever occurred and to see Twin Lakes remain a “well-cared for and welcoming” park for community use regardless of who maintains it.
County commissioners Wednesday will also discuss two funding items that came up in December when the board voted to approve the 2022 county budget. That meeting went long due to extensive discussion over a proposal by the Sheriff’s Office to buy a new $260,599 armored vehicle, leaving little time to discuss other items in the budget like a proposal to extend county healthcare benefits to elected officials. Commissioner Betsy Coffia questioned why the board would provide those benefits to commissioners – a move that would go into effect in 2023, to avoid directly benefiting the current commission – but not consider providing healthcare to other part-time county employees. “What would it cost us to extend family healthcare benefits the same as we’re now being proposed for ourselves to all of our part-time employees?” she asked. While County Administrator Nate Alger said he believe elected officials worked more hours than part-time and that the comparison wasn’t “apples to apples,” Coffia asked to have a board-level discussion about the potential costs involved in expanding the program.
Coffia also echoed the comments of several members of the public who criticized the Sheriff’s Office request last month to purchase an armored vehicle in 2022, questioning why that funding wasn’t instead directed toward mental health services in the Grand Traverse County Jail. In a recent memo, Coffia noted that a previous county contract with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health for jail services has now been lapsed for a year, leaving inmates without access to two mental health professionals who previously worked in the jail. The Sheriff’s Office didn’t request any funding in its 2022 budget to address that gap, said Coffia, who asked the department to provide an update on the status of mental health services at Wednesday’s meeting.
Finally, county commissioners will start off Wednesday by holding an organizational meeting to vote on new board rules, 2022 meeting dates and times, and commissioner appointments for the coming year. County commissioners are still proposed to meet on Wednesdays at 8am in 2022, with regular meetings generally held the first and third Wednesdays of the month and study sessions (in which commissioners don’t take any votes but discuss a particular topic in-depth and sometimes give informal direction to staff) on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, as needed. Proposed board rule changes in 2022 include only allowing commissioners to vote on board wage increases prior to the primary election filing deadline, with the increases to go into effect at the start of the next term; only allowing commissioners to vote remotely at meetings if they’re absent due to military duty; and requiring any commissioner, department head, elected official, or the chairperson of any public board, authority, or commission of Grand Traverse County desiring to place a matter on a meeting agenda to provide documentation to the county administrator for that item by 3pm on Monday of the week preceding the meeting.Comment