Oakland County Parks millage renewal passes

More than 3/4 of voters approve mill increase

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published November 9, 2020

 The new bridge and trails at Normandy Oaks Park in  Royal Oak were created through a partnership between the city  and the county’s parks program.

The new bridge and trails at Normandy Oaks Park in Royal Oak were created through a partnership between the city and the county’s parks program.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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OAKLAND COUNTY — For the first time in the park system’s nearly 55-year history, the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department asked residents to vote to increase its operating millage by about 50%.

But voters didn’t flinch, and the proposal to renew the millage for a seventh time and bump up the system’s funding was approved by a sweeping margin in the Nov. 3 general election.

With 76.4% of the 710,772 total votes cast, the Oakland County Parks and Recreation millage renewal proposal passed, with an increase taking the annual cost from the original 0.2329-mills approved in 1966 to 0.35 mills.

“It’s been a good day,” Oakland County Parks and Recreation Executive Director Dan Stencil said the day after the election. “It goes to show if you do a good job, people remember. If you treat them right and create an enjoyable experience so they can create family memories, that goes a long way. Especially when it comes to asking for an increase for the first time in 55 years.”

Earlier this year, when Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission members approved putting the proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot, they reasoned that many of the facilities and portions of the infrastructure in the system’s 13 parks had outlived their useful lifespan and were in need of repairs or replacement above what the normal budgeted operating costs could afford.

To make it worth residents’ while, a number of proposed perks not included in the previous millage package will go into effect immediately, including free county park day-use passes for seniors, veterans, active military members and individuals with permanent disabilities.

“There’s also a granting program for local units of government. That’s something that we’ll roll out over the next six to 12 months,” Stencil said, referring to a promised collaborative program with park engineers to team up with municipal planners to connect resources and create shared, interconnected trails and facilities.

Stencil cited Normandy Oaks Park in Royal Oak as an example of how the county-municipal partnership program could be successful. Last March, the county allocated $1.1 million to fund phase two of the park, including $521,250 to finish the trail system; $276,320 for the nature area; and $213,080 for the pedestrian bridge connecting Normandy Oaks Park to Elks Park.

“That was sort of the prototype for this kind of revenue sharing. We assisted the city of Royal Oak in creating the type of park that has regional draw for its trails,” he said.

Oakland County Commissioner Penny Luebs, D-Clawson, lobbied to get her peers to approve the proposal for the November ballot and said she was pleased with the positive response from voters.

“There is something for everyone to enjoy at the Oakland County parks,” Luebs said in an email. “Park use increased during the pandemic as we all realized being outside with family and friends is an enjoyable activity. The millage will allow us to maintain and improve our park systems for all to enjoy. Thanks to Dan Stencil and his team for always going above and beyond to support people in positive recreational activities and green spaces.”

Commissioner Michael Gingell, R-Lake Orion, expressed concern about the millage proposal before the election, saying he didn’t believe residents would be receptive to a tax increase amid the pandemic.

Gingell did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

Stencil added that the millage renewal will be helped by the overwhelming approval of Proposal 20-1, which will allocate funds from gas and oil extraction projects on public land to fund environmental and natural resource protection, and parks creation and maintenance.

“People love parks, and the longer we stay in this business, we realize how many people have family memories created in our parks, whether it’s a water park or campground or a Sunday hike. People have a lot of traditions that use the Oakland County parks,” he said.

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