County Parks Millage Renewal on Fall Ballot

Washtenaw County commissioners took action on two millage-related items at their June 4, 2014 meeting. The county board gave final approval to put a 10-year parks & recreation operations millage renewal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot. They also voted to set the county’s 2014 general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate.

The parks & recreation operations millage was first authorized by voters in November 1976 at 0.25 mills for a 10-year period and has been renewed three times. Because of the state’s Headlee amendment, the rate that’s actually levied has been rolled back and is now 0.2353 mills. The current millage expires in December 2016.

If renewed again, it would generate an estimated $3.2 million annually. That’s about half of the parks & recreation annual operating expenses of $6.7 million. Other revenue sources are admission/gate/membership fees charged seasonally at facilities including the Meri Lou Murray recreation center, the water/spray parks, and the Pierce Lake golf course. Funding is also received from state and federal grants as well as private donations. [.pdf of staff memo]

The county parks system receives most of its funding from two countywide millages. In addition to the operations millage, another millage pays for capital improvements and park development. It was also originally levied at 0.25 mills, but has been rolled back to 0.2367 mills.

In addition, a third millage – levied at 0.25 mills but rolled back to 0.2409 mills – funds natural areas preservation, bringing in about $3 million annually. It was first approved by voters in 2000, and renewed for another 10 years in 2010.

The county’s parks & recreation department is overseen by a separate entity – the parks & recreation commission – whose members are appointed by the county board. The county board has the authority to put a parks millage proposal on the ballot, but does not authorize expenditure of the funds. That responsibility rests with the parks & recreation commission. The group meets monthly at the parks & recreation office at County Farm Park, and its meetings are open to the public.

Regarding the June 4 vote to set the 2014 millage rate, this is an annual process that includes a public hearing, which was also held on June 4. One person – Thomas Partridge – spoke, advocating for more resources to provide services for the county’s most vulnerable residents.

Several other county millages are levied separately: emergency communications (0.2000 mills), the Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority (0.2146 mills), two for county parks and recreation (for operations at 0.2353 mills and capital improvements at 0.2367 mills) and for the natural areas preservation program (0.2409 mills). That brings the total county millage rate levied in July to 5.6768 mills, a rate that’s also unchanged from 2013. [.pdf of staff memo]

This is a mandatory procedural action, not a vote to levy new taxes. With a few minor exceptions, the county board does not have authority to levy taxes independently. Millage increases, new millages or an action to reset a millage at its original rate (known as a Headlee override) would require voter approval.

The rates will be included on the July tax bills for property owners in Washtenaw County.

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]