While park land is plentiful in Southeastern Michigan, its upkeep and protection is something necessary to keep it accessible to the public. As noted in our last post, park land throughout Michigan, and Southeastern Michigan, is made accessible through government entities, non-profits and/or private organizations. The funding of park lands and public spaces by non-profit and private organizations is at the will of the organizations’ board members and owners. However, funding and protecting park land through government entities is often more complex.
Government owned and operated parks throughout Michigan are funded primarily through tax dollars, but user fees, grants and donations also aid in their funding. At the state level, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), about 97 percent of funding for parks operations and maintenance is generated by user fees and royalty revenues. According to the MDNR, the breakdown is as follows:
- 51%: Camping and lodging reservation fees
- 26%: Recreation Passport sales
- 15%: State-owned, oil, gas and mineral royalty revenues – which feed the Michigan State Parks Endowment Fund – (15%)
- 5%: Concessions, shelter reservations and miscellaneous sources
Michigan’s General Fund tax dollars provide the remaining three percent of state parks funding.
At the County level, funding differs from one county to the next. For example, in Wayne County there is a millage (0.2459 mills) that funds county parks and distributes money to local communities for their parks. This millage means that the County’s general fund is not expected to make room for parks funding, but if those elected to represent Wayne County residents chose to do so in the general fund they can. Instead, through this additional millage that was voted on by the people (in 2016 and renewed in 2020) there is a dedicated funding source for a guaranteed amount of time. Through a parks millage, funding is dedicated to the creation, operation and/or upkeep of a park. When parks are funded through just the general fund the amount of money allocated to the parks, the programs and/or upkeep can vastly differ from year-to-year depending on the priorities of the elected bodies.
By simply putting a parks millage on the ballot, Wayne County showed that park improvements were a priority of theirs, and with 76 percent of voters supporting the 2020 ballot initiative this also showed that Wayne County residents also view parks as a priority.
In addition to Wayne County having a millage that helps support its parks and recreation opportunities so does Oakland, Washtenaw and St. Clair counties. In Southeastern Michigan, Monroe, Macomb and Livingston counties do not have additional funding mechanisms to support their parks.
Despite Monroe, Macomb and Livingston counties not having county-wide millages to help fund parks, there are cities in Livingston and Macomb counties that have millages to help support their parks.
For example, in Livingston County the Howell Area Parks and Recreation is supported by a 0.75 millage. This millage not only created the recreation agency that services Genoa, Marion, Oceola and Howell townships it also finances the parks and services the residents of these townships use and rely on.
In Macomb County, the cities of Roseville and Eastpointe created a joint recreation authority through a 1 mill tax levy that was originally approved by voters 2011. This millage allows the authority to operate, offer services (which produce revenue, also allowing the authority to operate) and maintain and update facilities and parks. Municipalities such as Washington and Macomb townships also have millages (one for each township, they do not have a joint authority) that support their parks and their recreation opportunities.
So, while tax dollars are a primary source of funding for our parks, and the opportunities they provide, the commitment to their allocation varies. Additionally, commitment to the funding of public parks comes from other sources as well. For example, there are the revenues generated from their use (fee structures differ from one park to the next, one program to the next and one municipality to the next), donations offered from various people and groups and grants that municipalities receive.
The grants that municipalities can apply for to support their parks are rather plentiful; the MDNR, the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation are just some of many organizations that allocate grand fund to support parks and recreation opportunities. However, grants are often a one-time allocation of funds and cannot be relied on to ensure a park, its staffing, its programs and more will continue from one year to the next.
To ensure the park land, and the programs associated with it, we all benefit from remains accessible and useable we must create dedicated funding mechanisms. Millages are one source, but must be approved by voters. And, while general fund dollars flow into a municipality on an annual basis, the allocation of those funds differs annually.