Voters in Waterford Township will determine whether to authorize a new millage for the Parks and Recreation Department at 0.5 mills for a period of 20 years beginning with the December 2012 tax bills.
The millage before voters in the Nov. 6 general election is intended to fund the operating costs of department programs, activities and facilities. The currently department has no dedicated millage, but is instead subsidized primarily by the township’s general fund.
“Parks and Recreation is not self-sustaining, whereas the library and police, for example, have dedicated millages,” said Supervisor Carl Solden. “A lot of people go through their doors, from seniors to kids. There’s always multiple things going on and great programming for the community.”
As township revenues have plummeted, so have those for the Parks and Recreation budget. The township has experienced a loss of $7.9 million in property tax and state shared revenues between 2008 and 2012.
Subsequently, the township’s general fund support for Parks and Recreation has declined from 66 percent of the department’s budget in 2007 to 58 percent in 2012.
“The fees (charged for Parks and Recreation programs and services) don’t cover operations — that comes from the township’s general fund,” said Waterford Budget Director Derek Diederich. “Between the fees and an operating millage, it would supplement the department and it would pretty much break even.”
This year the township allocated roughly $1 million in general fund money for the Parks and Recreation Department, but the township is facing a $1.7 million budget deficit for 2013, and Parks and Recreation funding could be whittled back.
“Police and fire (services) take priority and other functions must seriously be looked at, so Parks and Recreation could possibly be trimmed,” said Assistant Budget Director Barb Miller.
If the new millage is approved, it would generate $965,183 in the first year.
A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, which is generally equal to half the property’s market value. The owner of a township property with a $100,000 taxable value ($200,000 market value) would pay $50 in new property taxes in 2013 if the 0.5-mill tax is approved.
“It’s such a small amount of money per household — I don’t know anyone against it,” said township Trustee Anthony Bartolotta. “Now they won’t have to pull from the general fund and will be self-sustaining, which is a good thing.”
The Parks and Recreation Department oversees 17 parks in addition to six buildings. Moreover, the department maintains 13 baseball/softball fields, eight soccer fields, and eight playgrounds. It also puts on special events and leisure programs, and offers rental facilities to people of all ages.
The millage revenue would not be used to restore any of the 11 full-time Parks and Recreation staff positions eliminated since 2003.
“We had 17 full-time employees in 2006 (and are down) to six full-time today, but the millage is just to keep us operating,” said Parks and Recreation Director Tom Newcombe. “I have a talented and wonderful staff who don’t want the programs to go away and continue to take more and more responsibility.”
Newcombe added that the department continues to rely heavily on part-time and seasonal help, along with volunteers.
“The millage is just to keep the status quo until the economy improves. Then, hopefully we can add staff back later, but if (the millage) doesn’t pass, there are bound to be more cuts to programs,” Newcombe said.
Apart from staffing cuts, the department initiated some cost efficiencies like closing the Community Activities (CAI) Building Friday evenings and farmed out events like the Daddy/Daughter Dance.
It has also collaborated with the Waterford School District and the township library on brochures; offered day camps with Independence Township; and instituted a number of other collaborations with groups and other communities.
“We’re pretty creative,” Newcombe said.
The millage would not eliminate or reduce employee contributions to health insurance costs now required by state law. Furthermore, it would not reverse the limited hours in place at township parks and facilities.
“While we need good police and fire departments, we also need a good library and Parks and Recreation Department to ensure a decent quality of life and make the area desirable for young families,” Newcombe said.