2016-11-17 / Life in Leelanau

Proposal to lease campground for $1 draws criticism

Empire twp. and village
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


THE EMPIRE Village Council will look much different in December, as it is losing two council members and a clerk, and gaining two new members and a new clerk. Shown, from left, are Lanny Sterling, who was not re-elected; Soni Aylsworth; Sam Barr; Treasurer Grace Ronkaitis; Village President Sue Carpenter, who will swap seats with Barr; Clerk Pat Zoyhofski, who is retiring; Darlene Friend, deputy clerk; and Chris Frey. Not shown are Gerry Shiffman, who is vacating his seat, and Dan Davis. THE EMPIRE Village Council will look much different in December, as it is losing two council members and a clerk, and gaining two new members and a new clerk. Shown, from left, are Lanny Sterling, who was not re-elected; Soni Aylsworth; Sam Barr; Treasurer Grace Ronkaitis; Village President Sue Carpenter, who will swap seats with Barr; Clerk Pat Zoyhofski, who is retiring; Darlene Friend, deputy clerk; and Chris Frey. Not shown are Gerry Shiffman, who is vacating his seat, and Dan Davis. A draft lease agreement that requires Empire Township to pay the village rent of $1 a year for the jointly owned Empire Campground was tabled at the Village Council meeting held Nov. 10.

Under the draft lease submitted by Carl Noonan, Empire Township supervisor, the township would continue to maintain and operate the campground.

The issue was first brought up at the Oct. 25 Village Council meeting by Trustee Chris Frey, who thinks profits from the jointly-owned campground should be shared with the village and used to help maintain its two parks — the Empire Beach and Shalda Park.

Though the campground is owned by the township and village, it has always been maintained and operated by the township under a 33-year-old handshake agreement.

Over the past five years the campground has made a profit of $157,000. During the same time period the village has spent $329,653 on its two parks, which are used by both village and township residents.

The Village Council is now asking for a formal agreement in which the township would lease the village-owned portion of the campground.

The draft lease states that profits generated by the campground would first be used to take care of major emergency repairs at the campground and at the William B. Bolton Airport that shares the property. Secondly, profits would be used for improvements at the campground and airport.

And lastly, profits would go toward other recreational purposes within the township, which includes the village.

All decisions on how the money is to be used would be made jointly by the township and the village, the lease says.

The campground and airport property was purchased about 33 years ago. Because the village could not by law operate a recreational facility located outside of the village, according to an attorney opinion sought at the time, it was decided that the township would operate the campground.

At the October village meeting, Noonan offered to work with an attorney to draft a lease and present it at the village’s Nov. 10 meeting. The draft would be a starting point for a discussion between the village and township. His offer was unanimously approved by the council.

But village residents Mary Sharry and Bill Dickinson say the council needs to take its time to come up with a fair and balanced approach.

The rental amount of $1 is not appropriate, Sharry said. A letter that Sharry and Dickinson wrote to the council was read into the record at the Nov. 10 meeting.

In it they say that the village’s annual expenses to maintain its parks, which are equally used by village and township residents, “ ... extend into hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

While the township maintains the campground, they write, “ ... their expenses are more than covered by annual revenues generated from campground activity.”

They also object to the township’s donation of $20,000 from those profits to the privately-owned Johnson Park for construction of pickleball and shuffleball courts. The park is owned by the Lions Club, but Noonan has said the park is freely used by all township and village residents.

Local resident Frank Clements said Richard Figura, who is the attorney for both the village and township, might not be the right person to write the lease. Clements said the negotiations should be more transparent.

But Figura, who was at the meeting, said he did not have a role in the proposed lease.

“I have no role in this,” Figura said. “I have not negotiated any of the terms. I acted as a scribner and that’s it.”

Noonan has said that the campground operated at a loss for more than 20 years, with the village never helping to pay for its operations or upkeep.

The township recently installed a new modular house for the campground manager and new pit toilets. Campground profits also paid to repave and restripe the airport, which received new lights.

He has also said that campground profits should be earmarked for recreation.

In the end, a motion to table further discussion of the lease until the December meeting was approved on a vote of 6-1, with Carpenter voting “no.”

“I think it’s good fodder for the new council to cut their teeth on,” said outgoing Trustee Gerry Shiffman, who was at his final meeting as a council member.

Return to top