Parks, Pools and Playgrounds Proposal


The Parks, Pools and Playgrounds proposal will appear on the November 5, 2019 ballot. Facts about the proposal are listed below.

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What is the Parks, Pools and Playgrounds Proposal?

In 2013, Grand Rapids voters approved a property tax to support parks, pools and playgrounds throughout the city. This seven-year tax was designed to address a backlog of much-needed park repairs, keep our pools open and fund new investments in parks. The current millage is set to expire in 2020.

The Parks, Pools and Playgrounds Proposal will appear on the Nov. 5, 2019, ballot in Grand Rapids. To help ensure adequate, ongoing funding for parks, pools and playgrounds after the current millage expires, the City Commission was asked by a citizens committee – Neighbors for Parks, Pools and Playgrounds  – to put this millage request on the ballot. On Aug. 13, 2019, the City Commission voted unanimously in support of placing it on the ballot.

What services and projects would the parks millage support if passed by voters?

If passed, the parks proposal would:

  • Provide stable funding to keep our parks and playgrounds maintained, updated and safe
  • Keep all Grand Rapids pools and splash pads open every summer with staff and supplies to keep them safe and clean
  • Continue capital improvements and rehabilitation for our 74 neighborhood and community parks
  • Support additional free recreational programming for children in Grand Rapids, giving them more opportunities to connect with community, nature, play and friends
  • Leverage outside grants and funding for capital improvement projects

Anticipated annual parks expenditures from the millage include

  • $3 million for continued capital improvements and rehabilitation of the City’s 74 parks
  • Slightly more than $1 million to keep pools operating and open at current levels – supported by the 2013 millage\
  • $1 million for increased parks maintenance, allowing more parks to be maintained at a comprehensive stewardship level
  • $200,000 to support increased recreational programming and scholarship opportunities for recreation classes

The annual parks budget of $11.7 million would include approximately $5 million from the millage, along with additional general operating funds and resources leveraged through grants, fees and community partnerships.  


How much would the parks millage cost a property owner on an annual basis?

The proposed rate of 1.25 mills would permanently replace the current millage when it expires and cost the average homeowner an estimated $68.75 per year, or about $5.73 per month. The current parks millage costs the average homeowner $52.11 annually.

What were the results of the 2013 parks millage?

In November 2013, voters supported a seven-year millage for 0.98 mills – the first of its kind in Grand Rapids. The 2013 parks millage expires in 2020.

Through June 30, 2019, total millage expenditures are estimated to total more than $20.5 million: $5.7 million in park improvements (26.2%), $10.8 million in rehabilitation and repair (49.9%) and $4 million for pool operations (18.4%).

How will the proposal appear on the Nov. 5 ballot?

City of Grand Rapids Charter Amendment authorizing the levy of a permanent tax millage of 1.25 mills for Parks, Pools and Playgrounds commencing January 1, 2021. The current levy of 0.98 mills expires in 2020.

It is proposed that Section 18(e)(4) be added to the City Charter authorizing the levy of 1.25 mills commencing January 1, 2021, to be used for City-owned parks, pools and playgrounds which will raise an estimated $5,000,000 in the levy’s first year.

A portion of the revenues received would also be disbursed to:

Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, Downtown Development Authority, Smartzone Local Development Finance Authority, Monroe North TIFA, Southtown CIA, Michigan Street CIA, Westside CIA, North Quarter CIA, South Division/Grandville Avenue and Uptown CIA.

Shall the amendment be adopted?

Why is a portion of revenues being disbursed to other organizations?

By state law, the ballot proposal for the parks millage is required to disclose the 10 local authorities in the city of Grand Rapids that are funded through property tax capture. Every Millage is subject to having a portion of the revenues captured by local authorities for their authorized purposes. 

These local authorities will capture an estimated 15% of the total estimated $5 million annual millage. The listed authorities, which are mostly in business districts and downtown, only keep taxes generated from property within their boundaries for their authorized purposes. Unless you pay taxes on property located in one of the listed authorities, 100% of what you pay for the parks millage will go to parks, pools and playgrounds. 

The largest tax-capturing authority, the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, is committed to making investments in downtown parks with its tax capture so millage dollars can go further for non-downtown parks. The Brownfield Redevelopment Authority has also invested in park projects like the renovation of Veterans Memorial Park.

Would the millage provide support to my neighborhood park or favorite recreation facility, pool or nature area?

The City adopted a Parks and Recreation Strategic Master Plan in 2017. The plan provides a framework and strategy for improving the City’s parks system to meet the needs and expectations of Grand Rapids residents. The plan identified $41 million in additional capital investment needs – not covered by the 2013 millage – including a wide range of additional water features (e.g., splash pads), playground updates, improved sports fields and courts, and other important recreational features.

Every neighborhood park in the City’s parks system would see higher levels of maintenance, quicker repairs and better facilities. The City would continue to work with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and community residents to identify targets of opportunity and make recommendations to the Parks Advisory Board, which is responsible for recommending a Parks and Recreation budget to the City Commission each year. The budget would include specific projects that used the dedicated millage funds.

Is funding for Forestry part of the proposed millage renewal?

Yes. In the City’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget, the Forestry Division was moved from Streets and Sanitation into the Parks and Recreation budget. Tree maintenance and new trees in parks would be eligible for millage funding.

Could the parks millage be used to purchase new parkland?

Yes. But the priority for using millage dollars would be in existing spaces. It’s possible in the future that new parkland could be purchased in areas of the city that are deficient of such spaces. The millage could be used to develop parkland acquired with other resources or donated to the City.

Would the parks millage be used for recreation and youth programming other than pool operations?

Yes. The millage would continue to support youth recreation programming at area pools and water safety and swim lessons. Recreation programming is primarily funded through the general operating fund, sponsorships, grants and fees for service. This millage also would support recreation programming and scholarships for Grand Rapids’ youth. 

What would happen to Parks and Recreation services if the millage didn’t pass?

As the millage expires, there are no funds beyond 2021 to cover investment and upgrades to the City’s parks system. As recreational assets – playgrounds, sports courts – age, there are no funds beyond Fiscal Year 2021 dedicated to the replacement of these park features.

The 2013 millage covered only initial phases of upgrades in many City parks. Parks such as Garfield Park, Wilcox Park and many others received only an initial phase of investment and would require additional improvement to best meet community goals for these spaces. 

Why is most of the emphasis on neighborhood parks instead of downtown parks?

Downtown parks are rated at a “B” level for maintenance and enjoy the added benefit of being in the Downtown Development Authority boundary, which comes with additional resources and support for capital projects. Neighborhood parks have seen the greatest negative impact of reduced funding and maintenance in the past and need the most attention.

Are there guidelines for the administration of the millage?

Yes. The City Commission would approve policies for the administration of the parks millage. The proposed administrative policy guidelines are consistent with those adopted in 2013 which specify a commitment of additional general operating funds and other requirements to ensure millage dollars stay dedicated to parks.

What makes up the City of Grand Rapids parks system?

As of summer 2019, the City’s parks, recreation and open space holdings are comprised of 74 parks and facilities, totaling approximately 1,643 acres of land. The City directly maintains approximately 833 acres, 58 basketball courts, 23 soccer fields, 32 playground areas, approximately 13.8 miles of multi-use paths, 13 splash pads and three swimming pools.

The City recently completed a Parks and Recreation Master Plan that highlights the current parks system and a vision for the future. 

What are some examples of what will take place in the parks if the parks millage passes?

  • Keep all Grand Rapids pools open for the summer season, staff each pool with required lifeguards and provide proper supplies to keep pools safe and clean
  • Playground improvements and replacement of equipment that no longer conforms to playground standards
  • Achieve a higher level of park maintenance and operations, including keeping restrooms open and clean, emptying trash cans, keeping splash pad functioning, mowing grass, keeping trails cleared and maintaining plantings
  • Continue to implement neighborhood park plans for rehabilitation and repairs
  • Leverage outside grants and funding for capital improvement projects
  • Large tree maintenance and tree planting