Millage sought for Grand Rapids parks – MLIVE

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A parks millage could come to city voters later this year. Grand Rapids City Commission next week will discuss putting a tax question on the November ballot.

A group of citizens billing itself as NP3 – Neighbors for Parks, Pools and Playgrounds – lobbied the commission Tuesday, May 28, to spend another $3.5 million to $4.5 million per year on parks. The requested revenue source: a dedicated millage.

A 1-mill tax would generate about $4 million.

“Parks are for getting outdoors, getting my kids outdoors,” said Christine Helms-Maletic, a Midtown resident urging more parks funding. “We choose to live in the city. Our yard is small. My kids need a place to play.

“Having (quality) parks is going to keep people in the city.”

RELATED: Are you ’embarrassed’ by Grand Rapids city parks?

Grand Rapids has cut parks spending deeply over the years, though the city’s general fund still allocates about $5 million annually to parks. Park advocates want to the city to invest more money in parks, claiming that quality parks increase private property values, improve public health, enhance civic life and attract people to the city.

Wyoming, for example, levies a 1.5-mill tax dedicated to parks and recreation. Kentwood has a 0.1-mill parks millage for capital improvements.

“A decade of cost cutting and budget stagnation has resulted in historic underfunding of city parks,” said Steve Faber, executive director of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. “For all major indicators we’re about half of where we need to be in terms of investing in our parks. We aren’t keeping pace.

“We cannot cut our way any further to a better parks system. We as a community must identify and secure new revenue if we intend to offer a quality parks system.”

RELATED: Audit finds Grand Rapids falls behind similar Midwest cities in parks

Though the general fund is stabilizing, Grand Rapids leaders are struggling with how to fund things like streets and parks. A separate group is pushing a local streets tax in concert with additional road funding from the state, via an increased gas tax and higher vehicle registration fees.

Mayor George Heartwell said he wants City Commission to discuss putting a millage proposal on the ballot. The discussion could be incorporated into a Tuesday, June 4 budget review, City Manager Greg Sundstrom said.

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