Future of Grand Rapids parks on Nov. 5 ballot

File photo.
File photo.

On the Nov. 5 ballot, Grand Rapids voters will vote on a seven-year millage that would raise taxes by 0.98 mills (a unit of property tax) and provide stable funding to Grand Rapids parks, pools and playgrounds.

Supporters say the millage would require the average homeowner in Grand Rapids to pay about $3.66 per month or $44 a year.

Grand Rapids parks were hit hard when revenue-sharing funds from the state of Michigan dried up, leaving many Grand Rapids parks in disrepair.

According to The Friends of Grand Rapids Parks group, studies show that more than 90 percent of the city’s parks have received a “C” grade in terms of maintenance.

Problems include crumbling basketball and tennis courts, a lack of nets, unused wading and swimming pools in places like Highland Park and Campau Park and playground equipment that was broken and taken out but not replaced.

According to the Grand Rapids Press, the city has reduced its parks staff by 70 percent since 2002 and diverted outsized chunks of its parks budget to other areas. This in turn has led to an estimated $30 million maintenance backlog among the parks.

A letter from the Neighbors for Parks, Pools and Playgrounds states that an additional $4 million in annual investment will produce “improved health and wellness, increased property values, improved access for children, improved environmental health and improved quality of life” around Grand Rapids.

The Yes! GR Parks campaign says the additional funds raised from the millage would be used to fix inoperable, outdated and inaccessible park equipment and facilities; replace broken playground equipment; restore restrooms and drinking fountains; and improve courts and fields.

More specifically, the proposal would include:

$2.2 million to be spent annually on “rehabilitation and repair activities” including “tree maintenance, park equipment repairs, repairs to pools and playgrounds, enhanced maintenance for existing park infrastructure and recreation facilities”; $1.2 million to be spent annually on “park capital improvements and grant matching funds” for “neighborhood parks, shelters and lodges, replacement of wading pools with splash pads, new playgrounds, trails, boardwalks, recreation facilities and park equipment acquisitions”; and $600,000 to be spent annually on “hiring lifeguards, operating the pool equipment and purchasing pool chemicals” for city pools at Briggs, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richmond parks.

It seems many citizens are stepping up and taking the initiative with the parks proposal.

The Business Journal notes the effort to put the proposal on the ballot was the work of citizens, including architect Mark Miller, who is chairing the citizen effort Neighbors for Parks, Pools and Playgrounds.

In his Frame Works column in the upcoming November issue of sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine, Miller shares: “The park system is saddled with a backlog of deferred maintenance that continues to grow. In an attempt to manage this burgeoning backlog, park workers often have no choice but to remove broken play structures rather than repair them.”

According to Greg Sundstrom, Grand Rapids city manager, the millage would raise approximately $4 million for parks.

About the Author

Lauren De Haan

Lauren De Haan is Chimes Editor in Chief for the 2014-15 school year.

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