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Supporters: Parks millage would end era of “spit-shine and chewing gum” maintenance

A coalition in Grand Rapids wants voters to approve a dedicated millage for city parks in November.

The campaign to get people to vote for the millage kicked offin an abandoned wading pool at a city park. It’s not safe anymore and will be torn up this fall. There’s no money to replace it.

Jenn Gavin watches her three year old, Milo, playing on the other side of a chain-link fence around the empty pool. She says they walk to this park regularly.

“My son was able to enjoy the wading pool one season before it closed and now every time we come to this park he asks where the water is,” Gavin says. “I grew up in a city with really great parks and I just don’t think Grand Rapids has that. It’s very important to me.”

Steve Faber is executive director of the non-profit Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. He says the city and the coalition have barely been able to maintain the city’s parks.

“You spit-shine things and then you tack them together with chewing gum and hope it lasts 'til next season,” Faber shrugs. He points to areas of this park where volunteers have repainted some of the playground. He says they’ve been able to secure more revenue for parks, including private donors.

“But after 10 years of doing that, you start to get donor fatigue. The rate of decline of some of these resources gets to the point where it takes more than spit and chewing gum; you actually need to replace them,” Faber said.

Faber says having a dedicated millage means parks won’t rely on the city’s dwindling general fund.

“That also pays for police and fire. It pays for a big chunk of our roads. And there are a lot of other things in line before you get to parks,” Faber said.

Staffing at Grand Rapids' parks department has been cut 70% – more than any other city department through the recession.

The millage would raise $4 million over seven years. It would be spent on upgrading existing parks and keeping city pools open longer over the summer.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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