— Staff layoffs and canceled programs in the Genesee County parks system were narrowly averted on Oct. 1 when the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation announced a one-year, $1.27-million grant to the Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission.
The grant will fill a budget gap created by a reduction in millage income resulting from a drop in the overall taxable value of properties in Genesee County. Millage income is the Parks Commission’s largest source of annual revenue. The 10-year millage was renewed by voters in 2006.
The Commission’s 2010-2011 fiscal year began Oct. 1, and without the grant, the next 12 months looked bleak, says Amy M. McMillan, the commission’s director for the past 10 years.
“We were faced with laying off several employees, eliminating all summer recreation programming, closing For- Mar Nature Center and Arboretum in January and February, and canceling Christmas at Crossroads,” she said. “Laying off employees would have greatly affected our ability to maintain the parks and continue the high standard of safety and facilities that park visitors have come to expect.”
The Mott grant illustrates the Foundation’s longstanding role in helping the greater Flint community address its needs, says McMillan.
“Most people know about the huge investments the CS Mott Foundation has been making for decades to improve the quality of life for people around the world,” she said. “And year after year, it continues to support the people of Genesee County as well. This is just one example of the Foundation’s generosity to the community.”
According to McMillan, cutting staff would have had negative consequences on other county residents as well. An economic impact study released by Pros Consulting in March 2010, shows that the Genesee County Parks business operations in 2009 had the economic impact of adding more than $23.3 million to the local economy and funded roughly 684 jobs, in addition to the Parks Commission’s own payroll.
This is the second consecutive year that Mott has provided operating support for the county parks to fill a budget gap caused by a drop in millage income. The Foundation’s support related to the county parks has totaled nearly $17 million since 1965.
“CS Mott loved this community, and he helped create these parks 40 years ago,” says McMillan. “Thanks to his vision and that of people like Homer Dowdy and others who worked with him, the residents of Genesee County have the largest county park system in the state — 11,000 acres of beauty, inspiration, education and pure fun.”
McMillan says more than 500,000 people from both inside and outside the county use the parks annually. In the last few years, cities and townships have had to cut funding for their parks and recreation areas, closing pools, ceasing maintenance of green spaces and reducing park law enforcement personnel. At the same time, double-digit unemployment is sending families in search of free, low cost and local recreation.
With few functioning, safe recreational areas in the municipalities, McMillan says people are using the county parks in record numbers. Most Genesee County residents live within a 10- minute drive of a county park.
“The Genesee County parks have become a “first choice” and often an “only choice” for local residents,” explains McMillan. “Thanks to the CS Mott Foundation, these parks will remain open, maintained and available to the public at a time when they are needed most.” — G.G.