ROCKFORD, Mich. — Tucked behind downtown Rockford, the entrance to Richardson Sowerby Park shows the space’s age, as well as its discolored playground, rusted walking bridge and eroded river bank.
“It’s a good example of why we’re proposing this,” said Thad Beard, city manager.
Beard says Richardson Sowerby Park is one of 12 parks within the city in need of work. According to the city, some were last updated 15–20 years ago, which poses a safety risk among other concerns.
It’s why the city is putting forth a millage on this November’s ballot, which asks people to consider whether a 2.5% property tax increase should be implemented in order to “acquire, construct, install, operate and maintain public parks, greenways, trails and playgrounds.”
The millage, if approved, would cost the average homeowner about $243 a year and would last from 2022 to 2041. More than $640,000 would be generated by the millage annually.
“$243 is not cheap when you look at an increase in taxes, but we believe it is appropriate,” said Beard. “We also believe that when we look at our history, we are the lowest taxable entity of the city or village in our region and we’re now bearing the brunt of the consequences of that.”
The money, among other ways, would be used to hire additional staff, replace equipment, and complete projects, like an ice-skating rink.
Beard says for years the parks and recreation department has been underfunded. It costs about $400,000 to maintain the city’s spaces, but it usually works with a $350,000 budget. The dollars have instead gone toward more pressing needs, like police and fire services. He adds the city’s usual strategy of applying for state grants is no longer sustainable for their needs, explaining the city is no longer eligible for some or the full amount.
If the millage passes, Beard says the city would redirect the department’s budget to go toward fixing roads.
“Since I’ve been here we have conversations that we look at the street funds, we look at the street needs, we look at the park needs and we cut, cut, cut,” said Beard. “We’re hoping that the dedicated park millage will not only allow us to maintain, repair, and improve the parks, it will also allow us to maintain and do capital improvements for our street projects.”
The millage is believed to be the city’s first ballot question, so Beard is unsure of what to expect. However, he wants people to understand its value and says the city wouldn’t bring it to a vote unless they knew so too.
“Frankly, we’re letting down our citizens currently, with the appearance of our parks, the upkeep of our parks and where they are now,” said Beard. “I think most of the residents — I hope most of the residents — will look at this as a way we can bring pride back to our parks.”