Grand Traverse County Commissioners Question Spending, Leadership of Drain Commissioner

Grand Traverse County commissioners are worried they are throwing money down the drain, literally.

Some say they’re dissatisfied with the work and expenditures of the county drain commissioner, and at Wednesday’s meeting, they discussed dissolving the elected position and shifting duties to another department.

Board chair Rob Hentshcel says there are deficits in the drain budgets.

“We’re approaching a six figure deficit in that revolving drain fund,” said Hentschel. “Now, we have the state of Michigan looking at our audit, saying, ‘well how are you handling these deficits? They’re supposed to be handled.’”

The drain commissioner is in charge of maintaining, repairing and supervising 11 county drains and two lake level districts.

Right now, the drain commissioner, Steve Largent, has focused his attention on upgrading the Cass Road drain district system to protect surrounding businesses from flooding.

In 2018, flooding events burdened businesses up and down the street because of drain overflow.

Consulting fees for the project top more than $784,794.44, and Largent is soliciting bids to build the system.

“The engineering fees have risen above what was expected,” said Largent. “Cass Road has had historic flooding problems, [this project] will not only take care of your smaller flood events but also provide resilience to those larger storm events.”

The project could cost upwards of $6 million, according to commissioner Ron Clous. He says much for that funding would be paid for by businesses on Cass Road through their property taxes.

Clous says he is frustrated by how expensive the project already is and he wants to see more boots-on-the-ground effort by the drain commissioner to keep up with all of the county drains.

“The only thing I’ve heard the drain commissioner clearly say that he needs is more funding and more time,” said Clous. “He gets paid more than what any commissioner gets paid and I don’t look at this being a part time job, it’s whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Clous has been monitoring the Cass Road drain this summer on his own to clear the filter of debris.

Largent says he has been monitoring the county drains as well but admits he could spend more time out in the field.

Largent says the job is extremely difficult to do on a part time basis with a limited budget. His original county payment was around $7000, and last year, he asked for and received a raise from the county. He now makes $15,000 but feels it still doesn’t compensate him for the tasks of the job.

“You have to have the time and the support to be able to do that,” said Largent. “You can’t under-fund and expect the same level of work.”

The County is exploring options related to removing or eliminating the drain commissioner position but Largent feels it would hurt the county taxpayers when they need someone to respond to flooding events and related issues.

“Without the drain commissioner, it’s like, who do they turn to?” said Largent.