City of Grand Rapids

November 2013 Parks Ballot

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the parks ballot that citizens will decide in November?

On November 5, 2013, citizens will vote on a dedicated property millage for parks, pools, and playgrounds. It would be a seven-year millage for 0.98 mills and would be included in property tax bills from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2020. Each year the parks millage would generate approximately $4,000,000 to be dedicated to the City’s park system only, and could not be used for other City services.

2. Why is a parks millage on the ballot?

Currently, the City’s parks system is not sustainable. A parks millage will repair current park equipment and buildings, invest in new park improvements, and operate the swimming pools to create a sustainable park system. Currently, 91% of City parks are rated at a “C” level of maintenance (on a scale of “A”-“D”) according to the National Recreation and Parks Association maintenance standards, the lowest acceptable level for maintained parks. Without additional resources for parks, it is projected that 50% of City parks will fall to the lowest “D” level of service, which is intended for natural areas.

3. What will happen to the parks system if the millage does not pass?

Currently, parks, police, fire, and other municipal services are funded from the City’s General Operating Fund, and in essence, compete for these tax dollars. As the City became leaner cutting all operations by at least 20%, funding for parks has been reduced more than any other operation. Without additional resources, the City’s parks, pools, and playgrounds will continue to decline. Funding will not be available to make needed repairs and improvements. As the decline worsens, the City will continue to remove dilapidated equipment and close pools and playgrounds and allow parks to return to a natural unmaintained condition.

4. How will the parks millage be invested?

45% to 55% of the parks millage would be invested in the repair and rehabilitation of the current park equipment and facilities, 25% to 35% would be invested in new park equipment and facilities, and 15% to 20% would be used to open the City’s swimming pools for a longer season.

5. Will the parks millage improve my favorite neighborhood park, recreation facility, pool, or nature area?

Yes. Every neighborhood City park will receive needed repairs and improvements to parks, pools, and playground equipment and facilities. The Parks and Recreation Five- year Master Plan and the Green Grand Rapids Master Plan outline many of the needed park improvements. The City’s asset management plan will detail work needed in every City park. The City and its Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will work in partnership with residents and the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to identify work plans for every neighborhood park.

6. What makes up the City of Grand Rapids park system?

The City’s parks, recreation, and open space holdings currently include 73 City-owned parks totaling approximately 1,210 acres of land in the City limits. The City directly maintains 833 acres, 74 buildings and shelters, 41 tennis courts, 5 pickleball courts, 28 ball diamonds, 32 basketball courts, 10 soccer fields, 32 playground areas, 13.8 miles of multi-use paths, 3 operational swimming pools, and 7 water playgrounds.

7. What are some examples of park repairs and rehabilitation that would take place over the next seven years?

  • Fix inoperable, outdated, and inaccessible park, pool, and playground equipment and facilities
  • Ensure restrooms and drinking fountains are in good condition and well maintained
  • Replace playground equipment that does not conform to current playground safety standards
  • Ensure uniform playground surfaces and handicap accessibility
  • Improve maintenance of the City’s public trees

8. What are some examples of park improvements that would take place over the next seven years?

The parks millage will improve accessibility, lower long-term maintenance costs using sustainable asset management practices, and provide matching funds for grants.

  • Replace obsolete wading pools with new water playgrounds that consume less water, improve safety, and require minimal staffing
  • Construct new or reconstruct existing neighborhood park shelters and lodges, playgrounds, trails, boardwalks, and recreation facilities
  • Provide green improvements to all shelters, lodges, and pool houses
  • Improve pathways and park entrances to reduce risk and improve accessibility
  • Improve hard surface courts and fields
  • Replace ash trees and plant new trees

9. Will the parks millage pay for recreation programs other than pool operations?

No. The millage will not be used for recreation programming beyond pool operations, but it would improve facilities. The City will continue to provide recreation programming through the City’s General Operating Fund, sponsorships, grants, and fees.

10. Which pools will be open?

The larger pools at Richmond Park, ML King Jr. Park, and Briggs Park will remain open and extend their seasons from seven weeks to ten to twelve weeks. Accessible water resources are an important part of neighborhood quality of life. However, based on usage, cost, and other available swimming opportunities, operating six pools is not consistent with a sustainable parks system. The pools at Highland Park, Lincoln Park, and Campau Park will be replaced with water playgrounds that require less maintenance, staff, and water.

11. How can I be sure the parks millage is invested in parks, pools, and playgrounds?

On September 24, 2013, the City Commission will consider a resolution establishing Parks Millage Investment Guidelines below to ensure the parks millage is only invested as promised. These guidelines identify how the parks millage can be invested and commits current City spending for parks. Additionally, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board—a City Commission appointed group of citizens—will recommend how the parks millage is to be spent and will report actual expenditures to the City Commission and the public each year.


A. The City shall continue to pay for the existing Fiscal Year 2014 base level of park mowing, restroom cleaning, trash collection, sidewalk and parking lot snow plowing, utility costs, and other current expenditures identified as basic activities. Additionally, the City shall continue to maintain Fiscal Year 2014 levels of staffing for parks and recreation operations.

B. 45% to 55% of the parks millage shall be invested in rehabilitation and repairs, while 25% to 35% shall be invested in park improvements, and 15% to 20% shall be used to operate the City’s swimming pools.

C. All revenues and expenditures from the parks millage shall be accounted for separately and audited by a professional auditing firm. The annual investments shall be reported to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and City Commission and posted on the City’s website.

D. If future reductions are necessary in the City’s General Operating Fund budget during any of the seven years of this millage, beginning with Fiscal Year 2015, the General Operating Fund budget supporting the parks and recreation for that year shall be reduced by a percentage no greater than the percentage reduction of the total City General Operating budget.

E. If future increases occur in the City’s General Operating Fund budget during any of the seven years of this millage, beginning with Fiscal Year 2015, the General Operating Fund budget supporting the parks and recreation for that year shall be increased at the same rate as the percentage increase of the total City General Operating Fund budget.

F. All capital projects planning for investing the parks millage shall engage citizens or neighborhood residents.

G. All proposed parks millage expenditures shall be reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and approved by the City Commission prior to any spending.

H. The parks millage shall be subject to shared services/overhead costs, consistent with charges to all City departments.

I. Parks and recreation activities can be supported by funds other than the City’s General Operating Fund and parks millage to maintain Fiscal Year 2014 service levels. All funds, except the parks millage which are used to support parks and recreation activities, shall be considered the same as the City’s General Operating Fund support.

12. How much will the parks millage cost the average property owner?

The cost to a homeowner for a home with an average taxable value of $44,592 will be
$44 per year, or $3.66 per month.

13. Why will most improvements be in neighborhood parks?

Downtown parks are currently rated at a “B” level for maintenance and enjoy the added benefit of being within the Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. boundary, which provides significant supplemental funding for downtown park improvement. Neighborhood parks have seen the greatest negative impact of reduced funding and maintenance and need the most attention.

14. Why did the City decide to place a parks millage on the ballot?

A group of citizens, the Neighbors for Parks, Pools, and Playgrounds (NP3) asked the City Commission to place this on the November ballot after researching best practices across the country. These citizens determined that dedicated funding was needed to sustain and improve the City’s parks system. After the City Commission voted to place a question before the voters, NP3 organized the campaign.

15. How will the parks millage appear on the Tuesday, November 5, 2013 ballot?

The following language has been approved by the Michigan Attorney General for the
November ballot. The ballot includes language required under State law.
It is proposed that Section 18(e) of the City Charter be amended to authorize a new millage of up to .98 mills for 2014 through 2020, to be used for City-owned parks, pools, and playgrounds, which will raise an estimated $4,000,000 in the levy’s first year.
Tax increment revenues from this millage would also be disbursed to: Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, Downtown Development Authority, Kent County Land Bank Authority, SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority, Monroe North TIFA, Madison Square CIDA, North Quarter CIDA, and Uptown CIDA.
Shall this amendment be adopted? YES ( ) NO ( )
Don’t forget to vote on November 5!