Input on Parks & Rec Plan Sought, While Advocates Recommend a New Bond

Thursday, October 31, 2019, 8:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Chuck Overbey (left), Nathan Triplett, and Kathy Boyle present the Hannah Community Center study to City Council on October 22. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

The call is growing stronger from East Lansing Parks & Rec advocates to ask for a new bond to support the City’s parks and recreational facilities, especially the Hannah Community Center.

Representatives from the special committee that met over a period of six months to study Hannah came to City Council’s discussion-only meeting last week to present their report and to suggest that Council consider going to the voters next year to ask for a new bond. (The report and appendices are 406 pages; they download slowly.)

Former mayor Nathan Triplett, Chair of the 13-member Hannah study committee, told Council that the Hannah Community Center needs a significant reinvestment of funds in order to “refresh” the facility and to improve it for additional programming. Triplett made clear that it won’t be enough to inject funds for capital improvements; in the view of the committee, funds for sustaining programming must also be secured.

The committee did not recommend a specific dollar amount for either capital improvements or programming, saying that more detailed discussion will be needed to decide what plans to pursue and, then, how much those plans will cost. However, the committee recommended that Council decide on a bond that would include both improvements at Hannah and also other identified Parks & Rec needs.

Triplett said that there is currently a backlog of $12 million in Parks & Rec needs in East Lansing. Since 2016, those actively supporting Parks & Rec have been advocating a new bond, but Council gave priority to getting voters to pass an income tax first.

The income tax, passed last year and triggering a property tax reduction, allots 20 percent of the net revenue to Parks & Rec and infrastructure like roads, sidewalks, and sewers. That 20 percent is expected to come to about $700,000 to $1 million per year. But the sum will have to be divided between Parks & Rec and Public Works.

The Hannah Center alone requires $1 million a year from the City's general fund to operate, in addition to the program fees and room rentals paid directly by people who use the facility.

Meanwhile, advocates for the East Lansing Public Library have noted that, because the millages supporting the library will expire soon, the voters should be asked soon to pass new millages to support that institution.

At this week’s meeting of the Council of Neighborhood Presidents, Mayor Mark Meadows indicated he wants to see the Hannah building improved, with necessary maintenance work done and the third floor possibly finished and made available.

‘Appetite’ for another tax?

But Hawk Nest President Anne Hill asked Meadows if he really thought there was “an appetite” for another bond, saying that citizens are experiencing “layer upon layer of taxes.”

Meadows, who lives in Hill’s neighborhood, replied that he thought voters might not “feel” the new bond so much because it would simply replace the debt that is expiring. He also said that the rising value of property in the City might mean a relatively low millage could bring in substantial funds. He said that data-gathering and community meetings would be needed for input.

Meadows’ and Hill’s neighborhood of Hawk Nest lies in Clinton County, not Ingham County, which means homeowners there pay lower taxes than most East Lansing residents. Additionally, because they are outside the borders of the East Lansing Public Schools, they pay lower school taxes and do not pay towards the $94 million new schools bond which Meadows urged voters to pass.

At the neighborhood presidents’ meeting, Meadows said that having no bond debt for the City at this time “feels good” and that it would be “hard to go back” to more bond debt. But when Hill said East Lansing is very highly taxed compared to other communities, Meadows suggested that was partly because of non-City taxes like taxes for schools, CATA, and the trails.

At the discussion-only meeting last week, Council also discussed what to do with the one-story community center at the north edge of Valley Court Park, currently used by Helping Hands Respite Care. That building also needs significant work, and Council is considering whether to sell the building and the land on which it sits.

Decisions about what whether to put these issues to the voters in the next year or two will be made by the next City Council. Six candidates are competing for three Council seats in the election next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the City is asking residents to comment on a draft five-year Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenways Plan. This plan, according to a City press release, “identifies the actions to be taken to improve and maintain these facilities and services for the next five years.”

Residents can view the draft through this link and comment on it through Wednesday, November 13. (Paper copies are available at the East Lansing Public Library and Hannah Community Center.) There will be a public hearing on the plan at the Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission’s meeting on November 20 at 7 p.m. at the East Lansing Hannah Community Center.

According to the press release, “Community members can [also] share comments and/or suggestions by contacting the East Lansing Department of Parks, Recreation and Arts’ administrative office at (517) 319-6809 or by sending an email to parks@cityofeastlansing.com.”

 

Correction: When this article was published, it indicated that the public hearing for the park plan would be on Nov. 13. The public hearing has been moved to Nov. 20, so the article has been corrected. ELi thanks the City of East Lansing communications staff for catching this error.

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