GR leaders may put park millage increase on ballot

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For city kids like 2-year-old Clara Monoyios, places like Cherry Park in Grand Rapids provide a much-needed place to play.

“Clara absolutely loves it. This is her favorite one because it has the big orange slide,” her mom Emily Hunter said. “There’s so many people that live in housing that do not have yard space for their children.”

Cherry is a much different park than it was in 2013. Gone are the beat-up picnic tables and unused wading pool, replaced by a modern seating and a splash pad. The upgrades are thanks to a voter-approved millage to support Grand Rapids city parks.

The millage was set to expire in 2020, but city officials now not only want to make it permanent, but also increase it. City commissioners are expected to decide Tuesday whether to put the expansion question on the November ballot.

“It’s going to not only add more infrastructure, it’s also going to add maintenance and free programing. Those are things our community says are so needed,” Stephanie Adams, executive director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, said.

The volunteer organization was founded in 2008 to help guide the city’s efforts in the area of parks and recreation. It helped pass the 2013 millage, which has raised million in funds to help rebuild city pools and parks after the recession resulted in major cuts to the Parks and Recreation Department. In 2013, supporters asked for enough funding just to make many of the parks usable.

“One of the things that we were trying to figure out is how we just get our parks up and running again,” Adams said. “Back then, there was zero dollars for our parks department. We had gone from a very robust parks department down to three employees. And so just to get us started and seeing what we needed to do, give us seven years to get our feet underneath us to start replacing infrastructure and then see what we really need.”

If the millage increase gets on the ballot and if it’s approved by voters, it would boost the cost from $52.11 to $68.75 annually for the owner of a home with a market value of $110,000.

There are at least two challenges the proposal could face: an anti-tax sentiment among voters and from neighbors whose parks didn’t get the upgrades promised in 2013.

“There’s only enough dollars to go around with first improvements. There’s still so much more that needs to get done,” Adams said.

Five years into the seven-year millage, 73% of city parks had seen some kind of improvement. More work is planned. All city parks should see upgrades by 2021.

Something that may help supporters is the way projects have been decided.

“It’s definitely a community-engaged process and all the pieces and parts that are in the parks now are based on what neighbors say,” Adams said.

Still, it’s a substantial increase on a tax that was sold originally as a seven-year plan.

But some residents, like Emily Hunter, don’t see that as a problem.

“We need to put our money into things that are important for our children,” she said. “And having community parks like this will continue to help them grow and flourish.”

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