NEW BUFFALO — Berrien County’s parks director is hoping to hit a home run for the properties under his supervision, that are visited by thousands every year.

“We need to hit this one out of the park,” Brian Bailey said Wednesday to the county parks commission, in recommending that the parks millage be increased from 0.1 to 0.2 mills for the next four years, generating an additional $800,000 a year. “This will affect the parks for the next 40 years.”

The commission, meeting at the New Buffalo Township Hall, gave its unanimous consent to the recommendation, following the motion by Commissioner JB Hoyt.

Bailey will present the county commissioners with the millage request today at their regular board meeting. Commissioners can raise the millage up to 0.25 without a public vote.

Parks commission Chairman Dick Schinkel pointed out that when the millage was set, Berrien County didn’t have the seven parks it has now – Silver Beach, Rocky Gap, Love Creek, Madeline Bertrand, the History Center at Courthouse Square, and Galien River and Paw Paw River, the last two the most recently opened.

“I think 0.2 is a reasonable way to go,” Schinkel said.

Administrator Bill Wolf said that the parks department has the lowest of the county’s millages, with the senior center millage at 0.3, the public safety millage at 0.35 and the 911 millage levied at 0.45 mills. A mill generates $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value.

Berrien County has been focused on acquiring parks up to now, and now needs to concentrate on maintaining those facilities, many of which are getting old, Bailey said.

He estimated that the River Shelter at Madeline Bertrand Park, in Niles, would only last another three years. The concession stand at Silver Beach, in St. Joseph, was built in 1994 and needs to be replaced with a larger structure that includes an office for lifeguards, Bailey said.

A modernized concession stand could increase revenue and provide a safe, welcoming environment, Bailey said.

Building a new concession stand could cost around $450,000, and a new River Shelter has a projected price tag of $250,000, according to the parks department’s five-year improvement plan.

The playground equipment at Silver Beach, installed in 1992, needs to be replaced, at an estimated $350,000. Work needs to be done at each property, and Bailey wants to acquire property adjacent to the Paw Paw River Park that opened last year. A linear park along Red Arrow Highway, from Bridgman to New Buffalo, also is on the drawing board.

Many of these projects could be moved up on the calendar with additional funding, Bailey has pointed out. He has applied for state grants for the River Shelter project and Paw Paw River expansion.

He spoke to the board of commissioners’ Personnel and Human Resources Committee about the additional millage last month, and received a positive response.

St. Joseph Mike Garey, attending the parks commission meeting, endorsed Bailey’s vision for Silver Beach, saying that improvements would benefit the entire area. He offered the city’s help in applying for grants.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak