Newsmakers: Maples' new facility remains empty for another year (copy)

The Maples Benzie County Medical Care Facility in Frankfort.

BEULAH — A Benzie County millage being collected for construction and renovation of The Maples skilled nursing home could see surpluses of more than $200,000 per year over the next 10 years.

The Maples, a county medical care facility in Frankfort, is nearing completion, said Eric VanDussen, chair of the Benzie County Building Authority, which is managing the construction project. Items are being ticked off the punch list, with the renovated portion of the building nearly ready for electrical, mechanical and fire inspections, he said.

“In the next couple of months we should be able to obtain occupancy,” VanDussen said.

The Building Authority has been told the surplus is likely $230,000 per year, VanDussen said.

An ongoing debate about what can or should be done with the possible surplus had county administrator Mitch Deisch consulting with the Lansing-based law firm of Cohl, Stoker & Toskey.

Deisch recently told county commissioners that an unofficial opinion from David G. Stoker laid out three options: Right-size the millage to collect less money; pay down the bond debt early to save some interest costs; or use the money for capital improvements.

Commission Chair Gary Sauer said the decision will ultimately made by the county board.

“We’ll have to have that discussion,” Sauer said. “I’m pretty excited if they are able to get the occupancy permit next month.”

Michelle Thompson, county treasurer, cautions that there may not actually be a surplus. That will be determined after construction is complete and all the bills are paid, she said.

A 20-year, 0.635-mill property tax to fund the project was approved in 2010, with bonds sold in 2013 to finance a little more than half of the approximately $12.3 million project. The debt will be paid off in 2029.

The tax brings in about $800,000 per year — more than what is needed to pay off the bond debt.

Another 0.362-mill tax is collected for operations of the facility; that tax brings in about $454,750 per year.

The project was done in three phases that included new construction, demolition of part of the original building and renovations to other sections that included upgrades to heating, cooling, electrical and IT systems, as well as the addition of a therapy room and offices.

Commissioner Art Jeannot said managers of the nursing home would like to use the surplus for future capital improvements. It’s something he’s not totally on board with.

“I think each year the need ought to be evaluated,” Jeannot said.

Jeannot said he is glad the project is coming to an end. It had more than its share of problems, many of which he says were resolved about two years ago when several new members were appointed to the Building Authority, including VanDussen.

The new portion of The Maples was completed in 2015, but sat empty for about two years because the roof did not meet state fire codes.

Edmund London & Associates, the architects responsible for the roof’s design, in a settlement agreement paid the Building Authority $400,000 in December. Costs to bring the roof up to code came to about $500,000.

VanDussen also said when the millage was being sought, plans had never been drawn up for the renovated portion of the building. Even so, renovation costs were estimated at about $250,000. Asbestos removal, corroded water lines and other problems brought that cost to $1.2 million, he said.

The Building Authority recently voted to engage in mediation with attorney Edgar Roy III of Kuhn Rogers PLC in Traverse City. The authority has said Roy engaged in legal malpractice when he resigned as its representation a few months before mediation was to begin on a complaint regarding the faulty roof.

In his resignation letter, Roy cited a breakdown in his relationship with the authority.