Commissioners discuss ORVs, use of county-owned vehicles
Townships grapple with damage from ORVs
LAKE COUNTY — ORV issues was a topic of discussion at the Lake County Board of Commissioners’ recently meeting.
Board members have been dealing with complaints from various townships about ORVs tearing up the roads and not abiding by the rules.
The ORV committee is scheduled to begin meeting to set the map for 2021 for roads open to ORVs. The deadline to set the map is Feb. 28.
“The ordinance states that you can make changes to the map every year without going through the public hearings, and the BOC can approve that, but it has to be done by the deadline,” Lake County Administrator Tobi Lake said.
The committee will be looking at issues that have been brought forward by residents and township boards concerning the wear and tear on the roads caused by ORVs and possibly consider closing some of the roads to ORV traffic.
The current ordinance allows ORVs on all county roads except US-10, M-37 and Village roads.
Commissioner Christine Balulis suggested that the ORV committee begin discussions prior to the deadline so that everyone is on the same page regarding the issues being brought forward.
“Sheriff (Richard) Martin and Sgt. (Robert) Meyers contacted me and said they thought it would be helpful to come to some organization before the final meeting so that it is not a five-hour long meeting,” Balulis said. “If we could get some work done ahead of time, that would be helpful.”
Lake suggested the commissioners get with their local township boards and advise them to refine what the problem is, so that when the committee meets, they are all on the same page.
“It needs to be, as a unit, they have this certain issue,” Lake said. “If they can take the rest of this year to do that and come to us in January with what they see as the issue, then we can go from there.
“I heard someone say that this has been the best year for ORV and marine visitors,” he continued. “Is this an anomaly or is this the new normal? Is there going to be a concern going forward or is it just because everybody escaped the big city to come here this year?”
Commissioner Karl Walls said the bigger picture is why they opened the roads to ORVs in the first place.
“We opened the roads to get more activity and more people here so that our campgrounds and our businesses are busier, and everybody is making more money,” Walls said. “If someone is doing something wrong, the sheriff’s department and the ORV road patrol officer is supposed to deal with it, and they can only deal with it as much as we fund them and allow them to deal with it.
“We know we are not going to open our roads and allow ORVs here without any problems,” he continued. “We are inviting these people here and opening our roads in order to put money into the economy. We know there is going to be a certain percentage that are going to be trouble. We should have the tools in place to fix that.”
“There is a lot of legwork to be done on the local level, and I would advise the townships to refine what the problem is so that it is not one person saying one thing and the rest of the board saying another,” Lake said.
In other business, the board continued discussions on the county vehicle policy, regarding the use of vehicles during non-work hours.
Walls said he had a meeting with the commision chair and vice-chair, the county administrator, the personnel chair and the sheriff, in regards to the vehicle take home policy for road patrol officers.
“There are two things we really have an issue with,” Walls said. “The simpler of the two is whether or not we allow road patrol officers to take vehicles home. If we say yes to that, then the issue is where we draw the line as far as taking them home.
“Do we let them go outside the county, and if so, how far?” Walls asked. “Can they go 10 miles, 25 miles or 100 miles? So, there are a couple of decisions we need to make there.”
With respect to taking vehicles home, Walls said it is costing the county as much as $100,000 a year, and with budget cuts looming that is something that needs to be addressed.
“We’re cutting budgets, and all of a sudden we have a $40,000 to $100,000 expense that came out of nowhere,” Walls said. “If we are willing to pay that expense, we need to make that decision. If we feel that expense shouldn’t be there or the benefit isn’t there, we need to make that decision. We have always done certain things, but we need to get everything down on paper.”
Walls said looking at the current policy opened up an even “bigger can of worms.”
“For example,” he said, “the reserve officers are not employees of the county, but they have driven county vehicles.
“Do we know who these people are?” Walls asked.
“If they have been in the reserves for years, we don’t ask them to fill out annual paperwork to determine if they have a driver’s license or if there are other concerns the county may have if we give them the keys to a vehicle,” he said.
Commissioner Robert Sanders added that the policy currently states that the use of county vehicle is limited only to employees of the county.
Technically, the reserves are not employees, so if there was an accident there is a question of whether the county is covered by their insurance policy, he said.
“The reserves do a lot,” Sanders said. “They are very valuable and not to allow them the use of a county vehicle is crazy, in my opinion, but it should be covered under the policy.”
Walls said this is something the board is going to have to address, and it is going to take some time to go through the policy and see what all the issues are.
Lake said they will take time to get with the county’s insurance carrier and look at the possible exposure for the county before brining any policy to the board.
“Regardless of how it goes, these things need to be addressed,” Lake said. “It didn’t seem like that big of an issue when we got started – hey, take a care home, bring it back – it made sense. But now, we have a person that is off duty driving it home outside of the county and there are liabilities with that.”
No decision has been made regarding any changes to the current policy, but commissioners Walls and Sanders encouraged other board members to talk with the various department heads, including the sheriff’s department, to get input on the issue.
Walls said he would like to have revised policy put on the agenda for the board to vote on in November.
In addition, during the meeting, the board approved a motion to place the library millage renewal proposal before the voters in the August 2024 election.
The current library millage, which is levied at .2482 mills, expires in 2023.
Commisioners also approved a tentative budget timeline for the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
The board will host a budget workshop on Nov. 12, following the regular board of commissioners’ meeting. An additional workshop, if needed, is tentatively scheduled to follow the Nov. 25 board meeting.
A public hearing on the budget is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 3.
For information on how to participate remotely in the meetings, visit lakecounty-michigan.com or call 231-745-2725.