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Election Preview Part II: Ballot Initiatives

The best thing about local politics is that you can see the impact of your choices in your everyday life. And while that is certainly true of the candidates you elect for office, perhaps no form of democracy is more direct than voting on ballot initiatives. The United States is a Democratic Republic meaning we vote for representatives who then in turn vote on most of the proposed legislation that shapes our society. But every now and then, a ballot initiative pops up and we get to cut out the middleman and express our voice directly over the decisions our government makes.

A few such opportunities have afforded themselves to voters in Bruce and Washington Township this year. In both townships, voters will have the opportunity to renew the existing mileage for the Parks and Recreation Department and the STAR Senior Citizens Transportation Program. It is important to note that both of these are renewals of the existing mileage and not proposals of any new or additional taxes.

A “Yes” vote means you want to continue funding those programs as they are funded now. A “No” vote means significantly less funding for those programs and a small decrease in local taxes for many township residents. There is strong support for the Parks & Recreation and STAR Transportation programs in the community, but with a global pandemic already leading to the cancellation of the Summer programs and the Fall programs, while planned, still in jeopardy, we wanted to give voters an idea of how their tax dollars are being spent and how they will be spent in the future if the mileages are renewed.

Even during a pandemic, the Parks and Recreation service is at work trying in any way they can to facilitate community services and events during a challenging time where circumstances change on a nearly daily basis as new information becomes available. Clara Russell is the director of Parks and Recreation in the Community and she spoke about those changes and the adaptations the department has had to make. “Full time staff are working, but our jobs have changed.” Russell says that with nearly all part-time staff laid-off or working significantly reduced hours, the full-time staff has been picking up the slack to remain fiscally sound.

“We are picking up garbage from the park, helping out with regular maintenance and doing whatever else needs to be done.”

There are also measures being put in place to begin operations whenever they can do so safely.

“We are upgrading buildings with plastic splash guards and a variety of other (health and safety related) things,” Russell told us.

“We are trying to develop virtual recreation programs as well as enrichment programs ‘in a box’ for people to pick up.” These Arts and Crafts to-go programs are the next best thing to having the community center open and a major focus of the Department at this time.

Russell says the Parks and Recreation budget has not been dramatically affected by Covid-19 to this point. The majority of the mileage money is used to pay for the buildings, the full-time staff and the maintenance department. Any new developments or construction are funded by mileage money allotted at the onset of the budget or by grants. As for the programs which the department conducts, those that have been cancelled for the Summer of 2020, they are largely self-funded through the revenue they generate. “We only expense-out what we revenue-in,” said Director Russell. Clara did go on to clarify that there are some exceptions such as the Senior Center and Fitness Center which run at a net loss generally but are considered public services.

As for the STAR program, it is fully up and running and though the usage has been down, it is still an essential service that a number of community seniors rely on to pick-up groceries and medication or to get to medical appointments. The program takes anyone who lives in the Community anywhere with a 72 square mile area for leisure and personal trips and even further if necessary for medical reasons. Russell says that the system is set up in a way that allows the program to control costs even when usage is down. “Because STAR requires advanced reservation (two days or more), the hours (our staff work) are dependent on the numbers of (reservations) we get.” All of the drivers for STAR are part-time staff only and are working as needed.

Clara Russell says most of all that she hopes “People realize these renewals (are the same ones) that have been in place since the 1980’s. There is nothing new here and my biggest concern is that I hope there is no confusion related to last year's separate (Parks & Recreation expansion) vote.”

She added that there are plans in the future for the program to begin a new development of either an improved Community Center or a new park. But that the money that the department has set aside in savings for that endeavor specifically assigned for development.

“I know that there has been some (rumors) out there saying that (the money could be spent freely), but it’s definitely assigned for development.”

Article by Joe Malburg for 32andMain.com


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