Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Grand Rapids Parks Millage Proposal Controversy

It's perhaps a bit premature to call this a "controversy," but anything involving money, government, and kids does tend to raise emotions and provoke opinions.

Yesterday in "Tax ask for Grand Rapids parks: 0.98 mill for 7 years" on Mlive, Matt Vande Bunte reported that the Grand Rapids City Commission plans on voting formally whether to put this millage proposal on November's ballot.  NP3, or Neighbors for Parks, Pools, and Playgrounds, has specific plans for how this $4 million in new income would improve local parks.  You can click on the link for the details, but basically it boils down to:

  1. fix up the stuff the city has neglected 
  2. pay for current expenses the city has no money for 
  3. build a few new things.
I love Grand Rapids, and I use the parks.  Last year when the Creston Neighborhood Association planted fruit and nut trees at Aberdeen, I paid for one of the trees because I want these parks to be beautiful and practical well into the future.  I regularly walk through or by the Aberdeen, Briggs, and Riverside parks, and while Aberdeen and Briggs have new playscapes funded by grants, the older infrastructure has been neglected and shows wear.  I do not feel confident, however, that any millage monies collected will actually be used for the parks and not be funneled off to pensions, staff benefits, the public schools, or other union demands.  Several years ago we were asked to pass a millage that was supposed to guarantee that the pools would remain open for the public to use, and the city only opens 3 of the 6 public pools and those seem to be on the budget chopping block every year, barely escaping funding cuts.  Where did that money go?

Lincoln Park has the newest pool, last open in 2008.  The old Lincoln Park pool was demolished, the new one built, then closed.  2008 was a momentous year, but it does seem like expensive city assets have been allowed to languish after being, perhaps unwisely, built with taxpayer money.  Is there a trustworthy steward behind the parks millage?  That is what I, as a Grand Rapids taxpayer, would like to know before I wade through the facts on the conditions of the parks and proposals about what is to be done.

NP3 and other parks boosters in the area want better parks.  They compare the parks we have to those of other comparable size cities in the country and find ours wanting, but Michigan has been in a seriously depressed or recessed state for over a decade.  I asked for a comment from Max Friar, former Libertarian Party candidate for the 76th District House Representative, and he said, "It's true that parks are a common asset and everyone, and I certainly include myself, appreciates good, safe parks and the social and neighborhood capital they create.  But while the economic recovery in Michigan continues to grind along and unemployment is over 8%, all discussions of tax increases should be tabled."

What do you think?