Arts & Entertainment and Government

Commissioners set millage spending guidelines

About half has been designated for rehabilitating the city’s 73 parks.

September 27, 2013
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Commissioners set millage spending guidelines
A Nov. 5 millage request will ask voters to approve funds to repair and improve the city’s 73 parks and six swimming pools. Courtesy Thinkstockphoto.com

If Grand Rapids voters approve a millage request for parks in November, the city will spend about half of the revenue the levy will generate each year to make repairs and rehabilitate the system.

City commissioners set that funding guideline, along with others, last week — well in advance of the ballot proposal that goes before voters Nov. 5, a request that was driven by a citizens group.

“By adopting this, the commission is making a commitment for seven years if the millage is approved,” said Mayor George Heartwell.

“It is very clear that the funds from the millage will go to our parks,” added Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss.

The city will ask for a 0.98 mills increase to the property tax for seven years. A “yes” vote is expected to generate $4 million annually for the park system.

Commissioners said 45 percent to 55 percent of that revenue, or from $1.8 million to $2 million, must go to rehabbing the city’s 73 parks. The board also said $1 million to $1.4 million, or from 25 percent to 35 percent, must be invested annually in park improvements.

The remaining amount, up to 20 percent, must be used to operate the city’s three swimming pools over a longer season. The pools are at Richmond Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Briggs Park, and the swimming season would be extended from seven to possibly 12 weeks. The pools at Highland Park, Lincoln Park and Campau Park will be replaced with water playgrounds.

None of the revenue would be used for the city’s recreation programs.

Commissioners said the parks advisory board and the full commission must approve all the millage’s expenditures, and all revenues and expenditures from the additional levy must be posted on the city’s website.

“We are setting a benchmark. Citizens will be able to see how every dollar is spent,” said City Manager Greg Sundstrom. Commissioner Ruth Kelly said a citizens’ advisory group will closely monitor all the city’s revenue allocations for the duration of the millage.

Sundstrom pointed out the general fund allocations to the parks system will remain as is for now and throughout the millage’s shelf life. Reportedly, the city has dedicated $4.8 million to the system for this fiscal year.

Sundstrom also said if tax revenue to the city rises in the coming years, so will the allocation for the parks. If that revenue falls, he said the parks fund will be treated like any other departmental budget.

Heartwell said every city park will receive some funding. “There is a park in every neighborhood,” he said.

The city’s park system covers 1,210 acres of land. The city directly maintains 833 of those acres. The system includes 74 buildings and shelters, 41 tennis courts, five pickelball courts, 28 ball diamonds, 32 basketball courts, 10 soccer fields and 32 playground areas.

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