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County commissioners OK parks millage vote

Caleb Whitmer/The Holland Sentinel • Mar 23, 2016 at 11:00 AM

WEST OLIVE — Voters will decide Aug. 2 whether to renew Ottawa County’s parks millage.

The annual 0.33-mill tax is estimated to raise $3.5 million in the first year after it is approved, all of which will go to the county’s parks department.

The parks tax was originally approved by county voters in 1996. It must be renewed every 10 years.

“We’ve been so fortunate to have the support of the voters,” County Parks Director John Scholtz said. “It’s made all the difference in the world” to the parks system.

But more than simply asking voters to “renew” the parks millage, parks officials are asking that it also be “restored.”

A state-mandated mechanism automatically reduces property taxes relative to rising inflation rates. This mechanism is called the Headlee Amendment, referring to a 1978 amendment of Michigan’s Constitution by the state’s voters.

Since Ottawa County’s parks millage was originally approved, the Headlee Amendment reduced the tax from 0.33 mill to 0.3165 mill. To the county’s average homeowner, that’s a difference of about a dollar each year. For the county, it means the parks system is less $130,000 annually.

But whereas Headlee reduces property taxes when inflation increases, it won’t raise them when inflation decreases. That requires a “restoration” by voters.

“We think (the restored millage) would allow us to do more,” Scholtz said.

The past 20 years have seen the county parks system grow from 2,000 to 6,500 acres. 

During the next decade, the county parks department says it plans to spend substantially more on maintaining its facilities than it has before. The upcoming shift in spending priorities was planned.

“We’ve matured as a parks system,” Scholtz said. “We need to be able to offer high-quality maintenance. All along, that’s been the plan.”

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