May 23 • 06:13 PM

Park funding takes a dive

Commissioners vote 4-3 to shutter water parks in Dryden and Lapeer

February 03, 2010
LAPEER COUNTY — Commissioner Gary Roy may not have a water park in his northeast district but he's deeply disappointed that the majority of his fellow commissioners voted last week to close Dryden's Mill Race and Lapeer's Torzewski water parks for 2010.

Roy, along with Linda Jarvis and Dyle Henning, voted against the motion which essentially extends the county's current passive parks model throughout the year. Since October, the parks have been unstaffed.

"Between 25,000 and 45,000 people use those water parks and the majority of them are kids," Roy said.

"I don't feel that's a bad investment."

In addition to residents losing out on affordable recreation, closing the water parks also results in job losses for three full-time and several part-time employees and hurts businesses that supplied the parks and communities that benefitted from having them in their backyards, Roy noted.

Choosing to close the water parks will cut about $100,000 from the parks budget, but Roy contends that can't be construed as a 'savings,' considering last year's revenue downfalls were related to weather conditions.

Elaborate maze of water slides at Dryden’s Mill Race Water Park at General Squier will remain empty this summer.
"Passive parks don't do much for young families and kids. The only thing we did was take out our ability to raise revenues," Roy said.

The move to close the water features will reduce the parks department general fund appropriation from $254,800 to $157,761. That $157,000 figure will now comprise the entire park budget which was originally set at $475,300 for 2010, Parks Director Ken Elwert said. He remains the department's lone employee.

The county is looking to make up a $55,000 deficit from last year.

Commissioner Ian Kempf, who voted with Lenny Schneider, Dave Taylor and Cheryl Clark to close the water parks, said his decision was based on dollars. After crunching income and costs figures from the last seven years, it appears that taxpayers, on average, have been subsidizing every water park visit to a tune of $4.42.

The parks have not turned out to be the revenue neutral endeavor the county was told they would be, he said.

"In our current budget situation, these non-mandated services will feel the crunch," he said.

"I don't think the average taxpayer is prepared to underwrite the water parks."

One option on the table was to only close Torzewski which is in need of $20,000 worth of repairs. Closing the park will result in $30,000 in savings, Elwert said.

The parks remain open for use including the walking trails, picnic pavilions and more.

Also unaffected by the decision is a previously planned Dryden sled night which is slated for Feb. 12 from 5-9 p.m. with an alternate date of Feb. 19 if there's not enough snow.

The commissioners did not talk about a possible parks millage last week. Roy said he considers the issue dead considering the water features will be shuttered.

Jarvis, who represents District 6, which includes Dryden's Mill Race water park, could not be reached for comment by press time.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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