Parks, pools, boats — key lawmakers steer grants home
WESTLAND — Bob Kosowski ran the park system in a Detroit suburb before going to Lansing as a lawmaker. But he didn’t leave the parks behind.
Michigan’s new state budget, which takes effect Sunday, includes $300,000 for Westland’s Voss Park, a tired spot for recreation across the street from a boarded-up Inkster school. Baseball fields are getting new lights, fences and dugouts, while practice fields will be carved out for youth football.
Virtually every community has parks with a to-do list. Westland, however, has some additional clout: a lawmaker who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which determines where state tax dollars get spent.
“I know how the system works. … I’m happy that something is coming home to Westland,” said Kosowski, a Democrat.
Indeed, the budget reflects some of the very local desires of key lawmakers who shape it. There’s $1 million to replace a Mississippi River-style showboat in Lowell in western Michigan, $1 million for Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, $300,000 for a Livonia playground, $70,000 for a Livonia pool and $300,000 to paint a retired Coast Guard ship in Mackinaw City, among other projects.
Little-known nonprofit groups will also benefit. Gianna House in Eastpointe, which helps pregnant teens, is getting $100,000. Oakland Hope, a relatively new Christian-based human services agency in northern Oakland County, is also receiving $100,000.
Roughly $36 million in “Michigan enhancement grants” were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder.
“It’s a deliberative process. We do background,” said Rep. Laura Cox, R-Livonia, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “Some people make the cut. Some don’t.”
Cox, of course, carried the ball for Livonia, her home city. A state grant will cover more than half the cost of adding a climbing wall, zip line and other upgrades at the 1970s-era Botsford Park pool, parks director Ted Davis said.
“Nowadays it’s obsolete, almost. I don’t want to say the city couldn’t afford it,” Davis said of the new features. “This was just another funding source for us. She sees the value of updating the pool.”
In Lowell, a small city east of Grand Rapids, officials were working on ways to replace a paddlewheel showboat, formerly known as the Robert E. Lee, which has been a cherished site for community events on the Flat River. Hometown Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, came up with $1 million.
“It was a surprise,” city manager Mike Burns said.
Money still is being raised, but the state grant will cover a significant share. Committing local tax dollars, Burns said, “would have been very tough to do.”
Hildenbrand, who has showered millions of dollars on his Kent County district while chairman, said the old boat was a safety hazard.
“Anytime people bring those forward, they’re important,” he said of the project.
Hildenbrand defends the grant process, although the Republican acknowledges “there’s definitely more asks” by his fellow lawmakers “than resources available.”
“It’s such a small piece of the overall budget. They don’t come at the expense of other priorities,” he said.
The Mackinaw is a World War II-era icebreaking ship that has been turned into a seasonal museum at the tip of the Lower Peninsula. Director Lisa Pallagi credits Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, with getting $300,000, which will cover 80 percent of the cost of repainting the vessel.
In Westland, Voss Park has ball fields with out-of-shape fences, exposed concrete and coarse ground. The basketball court has a backboard but no hoop. Cracks in the court are filled with weeds.
“Our goal is to begin the work as soon as the little league football season is over,” Mayor William Wild said.