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Three Oaks says Berrien County owes them for drain

THREE OAKS, Mich. - Three Oaks officials are fired up over money they say Berrien County owes them. The argument is over money paid for the $2.1 million Schwark Drain, a project that was completed in 2010.

“This ditch, this lake, this depression, whatever you want to call it,” said Jerry Bucksburg. “That’s the new thing they built,” he pointed from the edge of his property on Schwark Road.

Bucksburg lives within the Schwark Drain district and a portion of the construction was done near his farmland.

Bucksburg was charged $11,000 by the Berrien County Drain Commission for the work on the Schwark Drain. He’s one of several land owners along with Three Oaks Township and Three Oaks Village that paid for construction.

“The only thing its benefitting is supposedly that development in Three Oaks,” said Bucksburg.

Plans for renovation of the Schwark Drain began in 2005, according to Three Oaks officials. The project was to drain two flood plains that were set to be developed into residential properties. The project was completed in the fall of 2010 and neither housing development materialized.

According to Three Oaks Village President David Grosse and Three Oaks Township Supervisor Chuck Sittig, the cost of the project grew far beyond initial estimates by the Berrien County Drain Commission.

Both the Township and Village paid %17 of the $2.1 million in construction costs and land owners paid percentages based on the size of their property. Additional costs were paid by the county and developers of the two target properties.

Recently Grosse said he noticed a discrepancy in the paperwork for work that wasn’t completed. “Come to find out,” he said. “It was $312,000 of work that was not done but was assessed.”

“It concerns me,” Grosse said of the county coming in under budget without contacting the parties charged for the work.

Between the township and village, officials say they should get back $70 thousand. “(The Drain Commissioner) should have reviewed the cost as soon as it was done and said ‘here was your credits,’” said Grosse.

“There’s really no such thing as owed money,” said Roger Zilke, Berrien County Drain Commissioner, when asked about waiting until the discrepancy was noticed before telling Three Oaks officials about the project being under budget.

Zilke told ABC 57 News the state drain code requires between %10 and %15 of the total cost be saved for maintenance of the drain. Any excess money is required to stay within the drain district.

“It’s maybe one in 1,000 projects where there is money to pay back,” said Zilke.

Zilke said he is working with lawyers to determine what amount is allowed to be paid back to landowners.

Three Oaks officials want to know why they were over charged in the first place. “That’s the cost of at least one police officer,” said Grosse. “It’s a big deal.”

Bucksburg estimates he overpaid for the project by approximately $1,000. “I’m sure we’ll get something back it’s just how long it’s going to take and when it’s going to happen.”

Three Oaks officials have sent a complaint to the Governor Snyder’s office in Lansing. A public hearing for the township will be held July 9th. A public hearing for the village will be held July 11th.

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