Board talks park upkeep

Marquette Township Board members Wednesday discussed the possibility of hiring additional employees to address maintenance needs and other duties at township parks, including Lions Field Recreation Area along Cherry Street, shown above. (Journal photo by Ryan Jarvi)

MARQUETTE — Marquette Township’s recently expanded recreational facilites are in need of some maintenance, officials say, but how, and whether that upkeep is provided in the near future may come down to the township’s budgeting process, or potentially a new millage for taxpayers.

The Marquette Township Board Wednesday addressed the maintenance concerns raised by its recreation committee, but decided to discuss the issue in more depth during budget planning in the coming months.

“There’s just a lot of issues, and because we have increased our recreational amenities and offerings, it does need more maintenance and more attention,” said Mike Springer, chairman of the recreation committee. “So it is our hope that … the board could hire an additional staff that could be directed, at least the majority of that person’s time, directed to take care of these recreational maintenance needs.”

Over the past few years, the township’s Lions Field Recreation Area — along Cherry Street — has grown to include a warming building, community skating rink and children’s playground structure, as Schwemwood Park — located off Marquette County Road 492 — has seen trail improvements and the addition of picnic tables, benches, informational signs and more trash and recyclables bins.

Springer said his committee created a more complete list of items requiring upkeep at Lions field. Meanwhile, state grant funding is allowing the township to further improve both parks by adding additional pathways, picnic tables and a drinking fountain, all requiring more maintenance.

But officials have said the township’s budget is tight, and finding the money to pay for new employees may be challenging.

“Recreation is an amenity and it is increasing,” Clerk Randy Ritari said, “and are we to the point now where, do we have to ask the residents for a small millage to maintain the facilities, try to maintain what we have and maybe increase it a little bit? Our budget this year is tight … so there’s no funds available this year.”

But Ritari said the township has until mid-August to submit language for a ballot proposal to the Marquette County Clerk’s Office, if the board decides to ask for a recreational millage in the November election.

Officials said the annual salary and benefits of an employee could be around $40,000, requiring a new millage of about .2 mill. Though officials seemed cautious of asking residents for more money, considering they just approved a special assessment increase of .19 mill to implement an ambulance service operated by the township fire department.

“We kind of get tired of asking for more, but the residents want more and realistically it comes with a cost,” Marquette Township Manager Randy Girard said.

Trustee Dave Wiegand, who also sits on the recreation committee, said the committee wanted the board to be aware of the maintenance needs as it prepares for the 2018 budget cycle.

“This is asset management 101,” Wiegand said. “We’ve got all these things out there, and we need to figure out if we want to take care of them or if we want them to fall into disrepair, because … the further they fall into disrepair over the years, the more expensive they are to replace and fix.”

Making arrangements with volunteers or outsourcing some duties could be options, though board members chose to wait for more information on projected maintenance costs and staffing levels to be provided by Girard at a later date.

“It’s not just the recreation, it’s general operations,” Girard said, later adding, “We’ve been limping by, but there’s just not enough hours with two and three-quarter (maintenance) people to cover all the things that need to be done on a regular basis and then, in addition, the recreation stuff on top.”

Girard said, among other duties, the two and three-quarter full-time equivalent positions working on buildings and grounds upkeep are responsible for maintaining the baseball field at the Lions field, as well as clearing pedestrian pathways, overseeing rental facilities and general maintenance of the township’s buildings and grounds.

Treasurer Ernest Johnson said he expects Girard’s budget proposal will give the board a better sense of potential options it could take.

“When we get to the budget, it all depends on what he comes up with for our revenue stream as to what direction we can go and how far we can go in that direction too,” he said. “Regardless of what we want to do, it comes right down to the bottom line — how many dollars do we have available to do some of this?”

Trustee John Markes said little thought was given in the past to future maintenance expenses, and that the township needs to keep that in mind going forward.

“One part of the equation that we’ve ignored in the past is that it’s going to cost some money to maintain whatever you install, and I think we need to do that,” he said. “It’s been a mistake, frankly, on this board’s part by not doing it, but I support maintaining what we’ve got.”

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.