Ann Arbor voters face parks millage renewal on Nov. 6 ballot
"I am optimistic that it will pass, but we just want to make sure we get the word out there that we're not asking for anything new," said Julie Grand, chair of the city's Park Advisory Commission.
"I just think it's really important that voters are able to distinguish between a new tax and a renewal," she said. "We made a conscious decision not to ask for more money."
Courtesy of Friends of the Parks
The city estimates the tax costs the average homeowner with a taxable value of $108,600 about $119 a year or slightly less than $10 per month.
The city's parks and recreation staff several months ago launched a web page dedicated to providing information about the parks millage renewal at www.a2gov.org/parksmillage.
More recently, Ann Arbor resident Ingrid Ault formed a group called Friends of the Parks, which has been distributing yard signs and promoting the millage renewal on a new blog and elsewhere. So far there appears to be no vocal opposition, but Ault isn't taking any chances.
"Word on the street was the ballot has been confusing, people were feeling like they were being overwhelmed, and I was hearing things along the lines of, 'Oh, I'm just going to vote against everything,' and that got me a little nervous," she said of why she launched the campaign. "I wanted to remind everyone this is a renewal and make sure our topic didn't get lost."
According to data provided by the city, between 60 percent and 80 percent of the annual millage funds support city park maintenance activities, including forestry and horticulture, natural area preservation, park operations, park equipment repairs and park security.
Between 20 percent and 40 percent of the annual millage funds support capital improvements in the following areas: active parks, forestry and horticulture, historic preservation, neighborhood parks and urban plazas, pathways, trails, boardwalks, greenways and the Huron River watershed, recreation facilities, and park equipment acquisitions.
"I guess the big message is that it's 45 percent of our budget, so I think people can almost draw their own conclusions about what would happen if we lose that," Grand said, noting the city's general fund provides the other 55 percent of the funding for parks.
Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager, said Ann Arbor has had a parks millage since the 1980s.
"The importance of it from a budgetary standpoint is significant," he said. "The millage supports both capital improvements and operations, so it's needed for the large projects we bring to council when we're doing renovations in a neighborhood park or redoing the softball fields out at Vets.
"It provides the funding sources for that as well as the ongoing required maintenance," he said. "It makes the pools and ice rinks run, it allows the ability to repair things as they come up, and it provides the funding for the inspection and maintenance of all of the neighborhood parks."
Smith said the city owns about about 2,100 acres of parkland, including natural areas. He said there would be noticeable service impacts and closure of recreation facilities if the millage isn't renewed.
Grand said that would be "absolutely devastating."
"It's almost impossible to think about," she said. "We'd have to close facilities and we'd be in basic survival mode."
Grand cited new tennis courts in Windemere Park, which were approved at PAC's last meeting, as one example of upcoming improvements that couldn't happen without the millage. She said the city's Natural Area Preservation and forestry programs also would lose funding.
"I don't want people who are angry about the possibility of new taxes just voting no on everything without realizing the parks millage is just what they've been paying all along," Grand said.
The parks millage is one of several taxes the city levies, including 6.17 mills for general operations, 2.06 mills for employee benefits, 2.47 mills for refuse collection, 2.06 mills for public transit, 2.125 mills for streets and sidewalks, 0.48 mills for open space and parkland preservation, and 0.13 mills for debt service.
Added up, that's about 16.6 mills worth of taxes levied by the city, which costs the average homeowner in Ann Arbor about $1,800 a year. That represents about a third of the taxes levied in Ann Arbor — about two-thirds of every property owner's tax payments go to other entities, including schools, the county, libraries and Washtenaw Community College.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.