County buys more land for Millennium Park

June 24, 2011
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Kent County commissioners agreed to purchase another 10.4 acres of land last week for Millennium Park, the county’s largest park at 1,500 acres. The county’s parks department will acquire the Maynard Avenue property from Grand Rapids Gravel for $172,200, a price that includes closing costs, survey and the necessary environmental work.

The cost of the land alone is $56,100, or $5,390 an acre for the two parcels. Closing costs are expected to be $2,500, with the survey and environmental work coming to $116,100. “No significant increases in maintenance or operation expenses are expected from this purchase, and acquisition of the parcels will make the park more functional for users and more efficient for development and maintenance of the trail,” said Mary Swanson, assistant county administrator.

About $58,600 of the purchase price will come from the Parks Acquisition and Development Fund, leaving the account with a balance of $388,000. Another $116,100 will come from the Millennium Park Trail Network CIP account.

“The parks department has been in negotiations with the property owner for several years. Acquisition of the parcels is consistent with the Millennium Park Master Plan, and will enable the final phase of the Fred Meijer Millennium Trail Network to be developed,” said Swanson.

“There are other pieces out there. There are pieces out there we’re trying to design around,” said County Parks Director Roger Sabine of the park and trail.

Sabine also said it is unlikely, for now at least, that his department will be able to reach the goal set years earlier of having 7,500 total acres in the parks system. The county is at 6,700 acres currently, and Sabine said there aren’t enough funds in the acquisitions and development account to purchase 800 more acres. “There’s not enough money to get to 7,500 acres,” he said.

But once the 7,500-acre mark is met, the plan is to concentrate on park development. “We’re natural resource based, so most of the land is not manicured,” he said.

Sabine also said grants to buy parkland are drying up. Besides, he said the process to get one takes about two years, and sometimes property sellers can’t wait that long for transactions to close. But Sabine also said the L.E. Kaufman golf course and the county’s campgrounds were producing profits. “The bottom line is they pay for themselves,” he said.

Sabine said the golf course is returning $1.09 for every $1 the county invests in it and the campgrounds are returning $1.25 for every $1. “We’ve cut a lot of expenses at the golf course. All of the golf course’s costs are covered by user fees,” he said. “I think you’ll see pretty good use at the parks. It’s kind of like Van Andel Arena; (the parks) are not used very often on Tuesday mornings but we have periods of heavy use.”

Preserving farmland also has been on the county’s property agenda. Recently, commissioners agreed to buy the development rights of a Sparta Township farm. The county will complete the transaction once it learns whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture will approve its grant request for half of the $110,000 purchase price. The farm has 73.15 acres and the per-acre price is $1,504. If the deal closes, the land can’t be developed for commercial purposes.

The county’s desire to preserve farmland got a boost from the state recently when legislators left Public Act 116 intact for at least the upcoming fiscal year while they eliminated a host of other tax credits. The law allows farmers to enter into a contract with the state to keep their lands in farming and agree not to develop the properties. In return, farmers receive credits on their state income tax returns when their property taxes exceed 3.5 percent of their household income.

The original law, enacted in 1974, only allowed the credits when a farmer’s property-tax bill was 7 percent of household income. But in 2001, former Gov. John Engler signed legislation that reduced the qualifying percentage to 3.5 percent.

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