BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — Two political neophytes hope to unseat incumbent Grand Traverse county commissioners — one Democratic and one Republican — by out-campaigning them in revamped districts.
Republican Dan Lathrop has run a relatively high-profile campaign that included multiple mailings, literature drops and yard signs in his effort to unseat two-term Democratic incumbent Ross Richardson in District 1.
Democrat Chandra Ross adopted a different, low-budget approach in her attempt to oust eight-term incumbent Republican Addison Wheelock Jr.
Ross' goal is to knock on over 3,000 doors in Long Lake Township and the western half of Green Lake Township that comprise District 4.
"I'm making really good headway and I'm really hearing from residents in my district," Ross said. "They don't feel a well-reasoned or measured approach is always taken by the board."
Richardson, the board's lone Democrat, is used to challenges from high-profile Republicans and has responded with his own literature. He said he's knocked on about 3,500 doors.
But Richardson's district took a Republican turn when local redistricting handed him Peninsula Township, where even the most popular Democrats can expect just 45 percent of the vote.
The county's troubled septage plant remains the top issue for most voters, and candidates in both races have taken opposite positions.
Lathrop opposes a new tax on properties with septic tanks to pay for the money-losing county septage treatment plant. He recognizes Peninsula Township taxpayers are on the hook for 21.5 percent of all losses, an estimated $43,000 in 2013, but said he doesn't expect the plant to fail.
Solutions he proposes, those not already exhausted by the county Board of Public Works, include more public education and allowing residents to buy vouchers to pay for treatment directly from the county. They currently pay haulers.
Richardson believes a tax, or special assessment, is the last viable option to fund the plant other than general fund tax revenue.
"It's a user service, and the users need to pay for it," Richardson said. "It's not fair to ask taxpayers who are paying for monthly sewer service to also pay for the septage plant."
County board membership was trimmed from nine to seven this year.
The roster change will allow the board to revisit members' decision this year to strip soil erosion control duties from county Drain Commissioner Kevin McElyea, whose salary also was slashed.
McElyea is Lathrop's house mate, and Lathrop said he would recuse himself from any related votes.
Richardson voted against changing McElyea's duties and cutting his salary, but said he won't vote to rescind the move because of the expense that would incur.
District 4 candidates also differ on the septic tank tax, but have much more similar positions on other topics.
"I think we could stand to lose a lot more business by creating a special assessment," Ross said, pointing to opposition to the septic tax from rural townships.
"We could be creating more problems than we are solving," she said.
Wheelock voted to support the assessment this summer, but said much has changed since that vote and he wants more information.
"I'm not terribly supportive ... but we have a publicly funded facility and we have to figure out how we pay for it," he said.
Both candidates favor of the use of fund balance money to help the county through the economic downturn and want to take a look at moving control of the county road commission to the elected county board.