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Detroit to close 50 parks, restrict work
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DETROIT (AP) — Detroit will close nearly half of its parks and reduce maintenance and other services at dozens of others after the City Council passed on a deal with the state to operate the city's massive Belle Isle park, Mayor Dave Bing announced Friday.

Closing 50 of the city's 107 parks will allow it to keep running Belle Isle after the Detroit City Council declined to vote on Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's offer for the popular 985-acre island park in the Detroit River. The city also will reduce services at 38 other parks.

Belle Isle — the same size as about 900 football fields and about 150 acres larger than New York's Central Park — provides views of Detroit and Canada and has a maritime museum and boat marina, as well as woods and hiking and biking trails.

Snyder's proposal called for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to run Belle Isle as a state park. The state would have taken on the $6.2 million annual operating costs, freeing up money for the city to use on other parks, Bing told reporters.

Bing is trying to find as many savings as possible while dealing with a budget deficit of more than $300 million. A review team is expected this month to report the city's fiscal condition to Snyder, who could appoint an emergency manager if a financial emergency is found.

Bing has already decreased spending, cut jobs and instituted unpaid furlough days.

Detroit closed 210 parks between 2008 and 2009.

The 50 parks slated for closure this year will not be fenced. They just won't get mowed and trash will not be collected. Grass at 38 other parks will be cut every 25 to 40 days instead of 10 to 14 days.

Of the city's 65 grounds maintenance staff, 36 are assigned to Belle Isle.

"The inaction by City Council and resulting retraction of the state's participation not only negatively affects Belle Isle, but also has significant impact on the city's other parks and services," Bing said.

Bing also nixed plans to extend hours at six recreation centers and stopped the planned hiring of more workers for new programs.

Detroit would have kept ownership of Belle Isle under terms of the lease and the state would have instituted an annual $11 fee for vehicles to drive onto the island.

The City Council on Tuesday voted against allowing a vote on the lease deal. Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr. said Belle Isle was a distraction on work the city needs to do to fix its financial problems.

"The only reason why the Belle Isle lease was seen as a viable solution to the problem of maintenance and upkeep for the island is because the city's financial problems have made meeting these $6 million annual costs difficult," Cockrel said in a statement earlier this week. "If we fix those finances we will likely find that Belle Isle maintenance and upkeep will cease to be a problem."