GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When revenue sharing funds from the state of Michigan dried up for cities during the recession, cuts hit the Grand Rapids Parks Department hard. However, in two weeks voters will have the option to pay to turn things around for the city’s parks.
There is an effort to pass a millage Nov. 5 that would provide stable park funding, lead by the ballot committee Neighbors for Parks, Pools and Playgrounds.
It’s a seven-year millage that supporters say would cost the average homeowner about $3.66 per month, or roughly $44 a year.
Long-time East Hills neighbor Bill Peterson said it would be a welcome relief for his nearby Cherry Park. He would like the wading pool to be reopened that was closed this summer.
“This was a very highly used resource for a lot of the neighborhood kids,” said Rachel Lee, East Hills Council of Neighbors.
Peterson also wishes some repairs could be done to the building that once served as an ice-skating warming house.
“No money has been put in the building for a long time,” said Peterson.
There are needs at other parks, too; crumbling basketball and tennis courts without nets, unused wading and swimming pools in places like Highland Park and Campau Park, and playground equipment that was broken and taken out, but was not replaced.
The Friends of Grand Rapids Parks group says studies show that more than 90% of the city’s parks have received a “C” grade in terms of maintenance.
“Without an investment soon, we predict that 50 percent of those parks are going to move to that ‘D’ area, which is more or less just a naturalized area,” said Steve Faber of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.
The Neighbors for Parks, Pools and Playgrounds hopes to get voters to say “Yes” to the millage as they go door-to-door over the coming days to get out the vote.
“The goal here is to get that dedicated revenue stream,” said Mark Miller, Co-chair for Neighbors Parks, Pools and Playgrounds. “We struggle to keep three pools open annually. We have to sort of truncate our time frame for those pools to keep them open….We’re struggling to keep playground equipment in. When something breaks, it has to be taken out and we often times don’t replace it.”
Eric Larson, leader of Kent County Taxpayer’s alliance, is usually opposed to new taxes that are opposed by the public. However, this time his organization doesn’t have a position on the parks millage because it’s a newer issue. He said they would only oppose it if it didn’t pass and someone tried to get it on the ballot a second time.
However, Larson said they have heard from some voters angry about the possibility of paying more taxes, but supporters say it’s time to reinvest.
“I also have been seeing a lot of new babies walking around here, and I’m hoping as the new babies grow up they have a wading pool to wade in,” said Bill Peterson.
For before and after park pictures of some of the parks in the 1950’s versus 2013, check the link below: