Parks/rec. dept. seeks tax renewal, plus small increase

The staff of the Oxford Twp. Parks and Recreation Dept.  includes (from left) Lauren Smith, Jeff Kinasz, Dawn Medici, Dan Sullivan and Director Ron Davis. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
The staff of the Oxford Twp. Parks and Recreation Dept. includes (from left) Lauren Smith, Jeff Kinasz, Dawn Medici, Dan Sullivan and Director Ron Davis. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

With approximately 2,000 absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 general election expected to arrive in Oxford residents’ mailboxes this week, Ron Davis is hoping these early voters, along with the rest of the community, will approve the township parks and recreation department’s request for an operating millage renewal, plus a small increase.

“In the 23 years I’ve been here, I think we’ve proven ourselves to be fiscally responsible,” he said. “If you like what we’ve done in the past, just trust in us and continue to support us.”

The department is requesting a 15-year, 1-mill property tax.

If approved, the levy would begin with the December 2018 tax collection and end with the December 2032 bill.

It’s estimated that in its first year, the proposed millage would generate $862,140 for the department’s operations.

One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

The current parks/rec. operating tax, which is set to expire with the December 2019 collection, is 0.8234 mill.

If the millage proposal is approved, officials would begin levying the 1-mill tax this year in place of the existing millage, meaning property owners would start paying an additional 0.1766 mill.

Part of the proposed increase is meant to help the department cover the added responsibility of running the new 3,126-square-foot senior center, currently under construction in Seymour Lake Township Park.

Construction is being funded by $300,000 from the township’s general fund reserves, plus $100,000 from the parks and recreation budget’s reserves.

Once built, the department will pay for the senior center’s staffing, operations and maintenance using monies from its annual budget, which is funded by the operating millage.

Davis is excited about finally being able to give local senior citizens a place of their own to gather, socialize, recreate, volunteer and be active as opposed to “sitting at home.”

To Davis, it’s important for taxpayers to continue funding the parks and recreation department because it represents “an investment in your community.”

He believes the department “plays an instrumental role” in maintaining a strong, healthy community and is just as important as police, fire and library services.

“If you look at it as bats and balls, you’re missing the whole purpose of our park system,” Davis said. “The benefits are much greater than that.”

The department, which consists of seven full-time employees including Davis, currently maintains approximately 510 acres of township parkland, spread across Seymour Lake, Oakwood Lake, Stony Lake and Powell Lake parks.

These parks – none of which charges an entrance fee – contain athletic fields, playgrounds, tennis, pickleball and basketball courts, picnic pavilions, disc golf courses, a splashpad, lakes for fishing and nature trails.

Whatever the activity, Davis said, “We have a park for you.”

Sports programs for youth, adults and senior citizens are a prominent part of the department’s activities.

“We have 1,700 kids that participate in our youth sports program across the board,” said Dan Sullivan, recreation supervisor in charge of youth and adult athletics.

Those 1,700 kids are playing basketball, soccer, volleyball, softball, bowling, golf and pee wee sports.

During the summer, about 425 high school-age kids participate in sports camps for volleyball, baseball, basketball, golf, tennis and fantasy sports, according to Sullivan.

On the adult side, Sullivan’s got approximately 120 guys playing softball on eight teams, plus two sessions of volleyball, each with about 75 participants.

For seniors, there’s a softball team consisting of about 20 players, plus a burgeoning pickleball program.

“The pickleball courts (at Seymour Lake Township Park) have been a hot commodity,” said Recreation Specialist Dawn Medici. “We have a sign-in sheet every Thursday night. We started out with, I think, 16 people and now, we’re up to like 56 or 58 people.”

All four courts are in use every Thursday from 5 p.m. until dusk, she said.

According to Lauren Smith, recreation supervisor in charge of enrichment and special events, the department offers approximately 130 enrichment programs throughout the year.

“We have about 550 participants,” she said.

Enrichment programs cover a variety of topics, ranging from baby-sitting classes and horseback riding to karate and art.

“I think we’ve got something literally for everybody,” Sullivan said.

Smith indicated the parks and rec. department is always looking to add more.

“We’re open to suggestions,” she said. “We just had somebody contact us (who’s) interested in offering beekeeping classes. If an instructor is interested in offering (a class), we’re willing to give it a try.”

Outside of enrichment programs, the department conducts 10 special events throughout the year – including the Easter Bunny Bonanza, Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree and Turkey Trot – that draw “about 1,200 participants.”

To Smith, one of the big reasons for voters to continue funding the department is the fact that it helps foster “a family environment” where “everyone can participate.”

Sullivan believes the department’s sports and enrichment programs are particularly valuable because they provide local youth with an alternative to “roaming the streets” or playing video games.

“Imagine a world without these opportunities and now, you’re looking at thousands of kids with nothing to do,” he said.

For example, this year’s Fun N Sun summer camp gave 130 local kids, ages 5-12, a place to go and things to do while school was out.

In addition to recreational and educational activities, the department also provides jobs for high school and college students, who comprise the majority of its 75 or more seasonal employees.

“We’re an employer for many of our youth in this area,” Davis said.

Davis indicated he’s more than happy to speak with anyone about the millage proposal. “Give us a call if you’re confused or you have questions. That’s what we’re here for,” he said.

The parks and recreation department can be reached by calling (248) 628-1720. The office is located in Seymour Lake Twp. Park.