Editorial: Parks Tax Deserves Support of Grand Rapids Noters on Nov. 5

Editor’s note: The following reflects the views of The Grand Rapids Press editorial board.

It seems like every other month or so, Grand Rapids lands on a list that pegs it as one of America’s best places for raising a family, retiring or just generally living.

The accolades come from national groups and publications that cite the city’s wealth, its impressive calendar of events like ArtPrize and other quality of life factors like lakes and beaches.

Those of us who live here year round, though, know that beauty can sometimes only be skin deep. Grand Rapids has not been immune to the harsh toll of a down economy, and it shows.

One large determiner of quality of life has languished over the past decade: the city’s neighborhood parks.

Broken swings and merry-go-rounds, out-of-order bathrooms, baseball diamonds left to the weeds and closed pools are just some of the woes evident in these spaces.

It is a sorry sight and a chronic problem. Thankfully, a citizen-led group is leading a push to revitalize the dozens of neighborhood parks in dire need of rehabilitation.

On Nov. 5, Yes GR Parks! will ask voters to approve a seven-year, 0.98-mill tax levy to generate about $4 million each year toward bettering the community spaces.

We heartily endorse this campaign, and urge residents to vote in its favor.

The millage would cost the average city homeowner $45 per year at a time when many are scraping to make ends meet. But it is a reasonable contribution for the benefit of all.

The city has reduced its parks staff by 70 percent since 2002, and diverted outsized chunks of of its parks budget to other areas. This, in turn, has led to an estimated $30 million maintenance backlog among the parks.

We like that money raised by the millage would only go toward neighborhood parks, and that the millage will end after seven years. Downtown parks already are maintained through the Downtown Development Authority.

Our support for this initiative is tempered by our sense of foreboding that Grand Rapids leaders are coming to rely on millages as a crutch.

Another pending question is whether to implement a special tax to fix the city’s crumbling roads system, thanks to dwindling state and federal support for those projects.

Grand Rapids will cease to become an attractive, affordable city for the young professionals and families that leaders hope to attract if millage requests pile up.

It is shortsighted to keep relying on grants and the kindness of strangers. That’s how the city’s pools have been kept open, but eleventh-hour donations are not a viable solution.

That said, voters have made it clear in recent years that they will shell out more to make their city beautiful and livable. A vote for the parks millage helps ensure the community stays vibrant.

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