The Mecosta County Parks will be asking residents to approve its proposed county-wide millage of up to one-half mill over five years on the August 2020 ballot.
Superintendent Jeff Abel said in a press release the park system has operated without a tax appropriation for over 50 years, however not all park and recreation areas within the system generate enough revenue to pay for their operating costs. These parks have been supplemented with funding from other Mecosta County parks in order to remain open. As large-scale maintenance items have been deferred for many years, due to lack of funding, it is inevitable that some of the parks will require an additional funding source in order to remain in operation.
This millage proposal is community based and solely prioritizes day use amenity improvements, outdoor recreation opportunities, community partnership initiatives and events. This proposal, if approved, would allow for the enhancement of community related projects and would bring the focus back to “county park” related services vs campground-oriented priorities.
The addition and replacement of playground structures within each of the County Parks is one of the top priorities of the proposal. Park Superintendent Jeff Abel stated that “there are many grant opportunities out there, especially for playground development, but those grants require matching funds. This millage would allow us to have the funds available to go after these grants, which in turn, would bring additional funding back into the park system and ensure that we are making the most of any tax revenue received.”
Keeping parks available to the community is another key component of the proposal.
Abel stated “not only would we like to keep our existing facilities available to the community, but we would like to expand the operating season at many of our parks.”
Abel noted an expanded season could mean services such as boat launches and playgrounds being open during non-operating seasons, the addition of vault restrooms for off-season users and incorporating winter activities into the parks event schedule.
Additional benefits, if passed, would include an overhaul to ADA accessibility accommodations throughout the park system, adding generators to park bathhouses to provide the community with water and shower resources during emergencies, creating better swimming areas and day use amenities, upkeep of existing trail systems, renovation of deteriorating buildings and public use facilities, possible addition of youth
sports, a spray park, or mini golf within the system and re-branding as a Parks and Recreation entity with community first priorities.
In addition to the proposed park enhancements, if approved, county residents would be given a discount on both season vehicle/season boat and daily vehicle/daily boat permit charges when visiting the parks. The current fee of $30 for a season pass would be reduced to $20 for county residents and day use passes would be reduced from $7 to $4 each for county residents.
If this funding initiative fails, some facilities that are not able to cover operating expenses, or where renovation costs are too great for the Park Commission to absorb, may be closed or removed as park amenities. Capital expense projects would be prioritized by return on investment and business outlook vs. community service initiatives to ensure sustainability of the system.
The Park Commission has held multiple public input opportunities within the past few years, which have helped in gathering feedback related to capital improvement plans, community events, trails, park user statistics, quality of park experiences, benefits of the parks, camping amenities, and the millage proposal. Superintendent Abel stated “in 2019 four Park Masterplan public comment sessions were held within the county parks” and that “those sessions provided much of the feedback utilized to ensure this millage
proposal was created in accordance with what the local community is seeking from the park system.”
Abel noted that there are many benefits to having quality park services and outdoor space available within your community and that the county parks are a tremendous economic driver for Mecosta County. Many businesses are able to operate within the county due to the visitor traffic created by the park system. Real estate is proven to be more valuable in areas with quality park offerings, with parks being a draw toward bringing working families into the community. Most recently, personal health as it relates to outdoor recreation has shown to be extremely important from both a physical and mental health aspect. Abel states “Parks are a place to hit the reset button and recharge your internal batteries from the stresses of everyday life. County Parks provide a venue for families to spend time together away from technology and for school friends to meet, play and exercise outside of the classroom. Parks provide a venue for rest, relaxation and recreation with friends, family and community, creating lasting memories together.”