Lake County applies for 'Trail Town' designation

BALDWIN — Lake County may soon receive the designation as a Pure Michigan Trail Town.

The Lake County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution of support for the application to establish Lake County as an official Pure Michigan Trail Town to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at their meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

The Lake County Economic Alliance (LCEDA) requested the support of the board of commissioners stating the designation will bring marketing resources through the Pure Michigan campaign and list Lake County as an outdoor recreational trails destination on Pure Michigan maps, websites and other promotional materials.

"We are moving forward with this application in our efforts to better promote our amazing outdoor recreational opportunities in the county and the impact they have on our economy," Lake County Business Development Coordinator Jodi Nichols said. "I think it will have a lot of impact in marketing the area for tourism. We will get the Pure Michigan branding, which will come with marketing benefits, additional signage and inclusion in the DNR mapping as a trail town on their website."

The application for trail town designation requires the county establish an advisory committee, adopt a long-term plan and enlist the support of the local governmental entity.

The LCEDA has established an Outdoor Recreation Committee, consisting of business leaders, economic development committee members and trail specialists, who will be responsible for management of the Pure Michigan Trail designation and development of the plan.

In the resolution, the board states "Lake County's economy is based largely on tourism and outdoor recreation; the trails throughout the county are an enormous asset and trail users have a significant impact on the economic vitality of the area; increased exposure and marketing will augment the existing efforts to promote the trail system; and increased promotion of the county's trail system will help grow our economy, while preserving the natural beauty that Lake County has to offer; therefore, the board supports this designation."

In other business, the board approved a resolution of opposition to the Trial Court Funding Commission interim report recommending the Michigan Constitution be altered to provide that circuit court clerks become employees of the court under the supervision of the state rather than the county clerk.

The Trial Court Funding Commission was established in 2017 with the task of recommending changes to the trial court funding system, following a case brought against the court system over posing fines to defendants to cover the cost of trials.

The commission issued a final report in April recommending a move toward a uniform employment system which would require all court employees be transitioned to state employment, including administrators, magistrates, probation officers and clerks.

"A final step to implement this recommendation is to amend the Michigan Constitution to provide that circuit court clerks are employed by the court (not by the county under the county clerk's office)," the report reads.

"The commission wants to take the county clerk's duties to circuit court and move them to a state level. We do not support that," Lake County clerk Patti Pacola said.

"County clerks are constitutionally mandated to ensure the integrity of the records and protecting the best interests of our citizens. Removing county clerks from the picture would serve as substantial disruption to the purpose they serve," the resolution states.

The board also approved the FY2020 annual budget timeline with the expectation of having the budget finalized in December. A public hearing on the budget proposal is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11.

During the meeting, the board heard from members of the Idlewild community regarding concerns over the purchase of several parcels of land within the community.

Yates Township Supervisor Colleen Carrington-Atkinson told the board, "We have one person purchasing a lot of property in the Idlewild area, and he is getting most of it from the (Lake County) land bank. We don't know what is going on with that, he's not doing anything with it, he's just holding it. We are trying to work on economic development in the community and we have one person purchasing all this property, mostly from tax sales. That's a real concern as we try to move forward."

A land bank is a public authority created to hold, manage and develop tax-foreclosed property. They have tools to turn tax-reverted property into usable parcels that reinvest in the community.

Properties are forfeited to the county treasurer when taxes are in the second year of delinquency. In the third year, properties are foreclosed on and are eligible for resale through a public auction.

Carrington-Atkinson told the board the Idlewild community has a lot of people coming into the area who have never been there before who want to purchase property and invest in the community.

"Our struggle is holding on to property so that we can sell it once it becomes available," she said. "The law says the county has the right to purchase property, but anything that doesn't sell is supposed to come back to the township, but the land bank is purchasing it. What I want to know, is if the treasurer has the legal right to sell the property to the land bank between the first auction and the second auction, because what they are doing is preventing us from obtaining the property that doesn't sell. Is that legal?" she said.

Idlewild Chamber of Commerce board member Gary Wahls said, "My concern is when I see speculators having opportunities in historic neighborhoods — I don't know what kind of protections the township has with respect to that, but we need to start protecting what is our historical significance."

Commissioner Karl Walls said he had the opportunity to speak with county treasurer Brenda Kutchinski and she believes she is following the rules and the laws as they are written.

"I will pass these concerns on to her and maybe we can get a better understanding of the issues, but I have the utmost confidence that our teasurer is doing the job she has been asked to do with the land bank and she's doing it within the law," he said.

"We are trying to develop our community, and if we don't get an opportunity to get the property before it goes back to the land bank, then we are getting cut out of the process," Carrington-Atkinson said. "All I'm trying to do is get clarification of the law."

During the meeting the board also approved the following resolutions:

• Appointment of Angie Maiville to represent the Democratic Party on the county board of canvassers;

• Accounts payables in the amount of $192,737.76; and

• FY2020 Crime Victim's Rights Grant in the amount of $55,014.