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Posted on Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

Ann Arbor voters face parks millage renewal on Nov. 6 ballot

By Ryan J. Stanton

With all the issues crowding the Nov. 6 ballot in Ann Arbor, including new tax proposals for public art and a downtown library, some are hoping the city's parks millage renewal isn't lost.

"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."


A group called Friends of the Parks is actively working to get the word out about the parks millage renewal.

Courtesy of Friends of the Parks

The parks millage is a six-year property tax levy of 1.1 mills last approved by Ann Arbor voters with 60 percent of the vote in 2006. It expires this year and voter approval is required to keep the $5 million in annual revenue from the tax flowing to the city's parks department through 2018.

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

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 Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Dog Guy

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 12:03 a.m.

Family finances require that I wait to see if the biddies pass their "bring the downtown library into the 20th Century" bond issue before I go along with any millages


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

Passage of the library bond issue means that you will be paying a new millage with the rate yet to be determined awaiting discovery of the coupon rate required to sell the bonds. Meanwhile the parks renewal millage is needed to provide adequate care for our existing parks. To kill that millage will provide encouragement for some members of city government to sell off our parks to developers. Why not, if voters do not want to maintain the parks?

Rose Garden

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

This is a great use of our taxpayer money. If a park needs very little maintenance, so much the better. A small, uncultivated park helps make Ann Arbor a beautiful place. A reference was made to "phantom" parks. The real parks need money for their upkeep.


Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

My guess is that all the work being done at Vets and west park is because there was a surplus that needed to be spent. It certainly is not because they are used so much.

Brian Kuehn

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 12:12 p.m.

Here is an idea, create more phantom parks. For years the Parks & Recreation Department has listed a "Glazier Hill Park" on the City's website. They have a map. They describe the entrances and an easement on Dobson Place. None of it exists. Never has existed. Yes, there is a chunk of land sitting there untouched but there is certainly no park. I contacted my City Council representatives and the Parks & Recreation Department years ago about this. Clearly maintaining a fictitious park is easier than doing the same for a real one. I have often wondered how much money was spent "developing and maintaining" this phantom park.

Ron Granger

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 1:53 p.m.

So what is your point? You want them to put an 8 story development on the property, instead of protecting it as parkland?

Brian Kuehn

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 12:18 p.m. communityservices/ParksandRecreation/parks/ Features/Pages/GlazierHills.aspx


Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 10:18 a.m.

Just another hand in the taxpayers meager wallet..." give and they will spend and spend and spend...."