By Ryan Hodges
Meridian Times Staff Writer
With a park system that is now nearly three times the size of what it was when the millage was established, Teri Banas, township parks commission vice chair, said the current millage is not enough.“Our millage was established in 1984,” Banas said. “Just to give you a sense of how long ago that was, it was the year that (Apple’s) Macintosh was revealed.”
Currently operating on roughly $504,000 per year, township parks would collect over $1 million annually with the proposed millage. This would provide funding for park-development projects that have been put on hold for as many as 14 years.
The tax issue will be on the Aug. 5 ballot. The current tax of a third of a mill will run until 2016. The proposal would set the tax at two thirds of a mill, 67 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, for 12 years starting in 2014. Both taxes would be in until the existing millage expires in 2016.
Residents will pay tax at one mill until 2016 if the millage increase is passed. Then the tax would drop to two thirds of a mill when the current millage expires.
Township Treasurer Julie Brixie said that the question on the ballot is a little complicated to understand.
“They’re asking for an increase, and the park millage is not expiring yet,” Brixie said.
“For a couple years they will collect extra money and then it will step back down.”
Banas said township park improvements will continue to be only a plan without a millage increase.
“We haven’t had a lot of money to invest in the system in terms of new improvements,” Banas said. “If we increase our millage, not only can we do a better job maintaining what we have, but we can also help do some big capital improvement projects.”
Anne Perkins, Haslett resident, said she has been an environmentalist for as long as she can remember, and she does not want Meridian Township to become another “concrete jungle.”
“We need more green spaces (and) we need more people to get outside and enjoy them,” Perkins said. “(It is) important to have those areas and I support the expansion of those, so yes I am very much so in favor of the increased millage.”
Nature center director Kit Rich said that the millage increase would help the center continue its day to day operations and pay for improvements to the existing facilities.
“The Harris Nature Center operations are totally funded through the park millage,” Rich said. “To continue to have a park millage means that we can continue to be open every day.”
LuAnn Maisner, director of Meridian Township Parks and Recreation, said while this millage will help fund major development projects, it will also help provide important improvements that are not usually covered by grants.
“A lot of times you can’t find grants to repave parking lots (or) re-dig a well,” Maisner said. “(The millage increase) is going to provide us an opportunity to start moving toward completing some of the projects on our six-year capital improvement program.”
Banas said that township parks and recreation hope to hire an additional worker with the tax increase to alleviate the heavy reliance on volunteers.
“It would help us do a better job of maintaining the parks system, (and) we would probably be able to get a little more help,” Banas said. “We only have four utility workers now … who work in the parks system.”Volunteering at the monthly nature center “Stewardship Days” event with the Okemos High School Key Club, Jaikishan Prasad, high school junior, said he and his club mates were eager to help clean up township parks.
“Obviously it comes back to us in the end,” Prasad said. “So if we maintain it well it will be good for us and future generations.”
“Everything that we teach has to do with the interaction of all things within the environment,” Rich said. “Man is a part of everything that every plant and animal is a part of.”
Mark Stephens, parks and recreation commissioner and coordinator for MSU’s Project FISH, said it is ultimately up to the people in the community to help with the upkeep of township parks.
“It’s not the park commission … it’s us in our community,” Stephens said. “These are our parks and just like if it was our home, we have to maintain them (and) we have to take care of them.”
For a map of the three key park renovations with diagrams of proposed improvements, click the link below.