BY MARY O’REGAN
Superintendent’s budget recommendations approved
From the December 17th issue of the Southwest Journal
The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) Administration and Finance Committee has approved Superintendent Jon Gurban’s 2008 budget recommendations amid public outcry over increased fees and ice skating rink closures.
According to MPRB documents, the board is expected to take in $40.9 million in property taxes allocated by the city â€” a 4.4 percent increase over last year; $9.7 million in local government aid â€” 1.9 percent less than 2007; and $4.6 million in fees, fines and other revenues â€” 10.4 percent more than last year.
The overall budgetary increase adds up to 3.7 percent, which, according to MPRB officials, could be even less when factoring in higher health insurance costs.
From the General Fund, $40.6 million will cover MPRB wages and fringe costs and $14.6 million will go to operating costs.
To develop the budget, the Park Board took public input during the Comprehensive Plan review session and held interactive strategy meetings with commissioners to determine their priorities. The feedback resulted in 10 strategies, such as promoting corporate sponsorship, developing fees based on the ability to pay and producing events as a means to acquire maximum financial benefit.
The proposed fee increases took center stage during the committee’s Dec. 5 meeting. Representatives from organizations sponsoring events such as the Loring Park Pride Festival, AIDS Walk, March of Dimes Walk, Multiple Sclerosis Walk, and Walk for Animals expressed surprise and outrage that their park usage fees had gone up 50â€”400 percent. Many of the organizations had already set their 2008 budgets, and reallocating money back into permit fees would mean taking funds away from programs and services. The Pride Festival would receive the largest fee increase â€” from $10,487 to $58,000 for usage of Loring Park.
General Manager Don Sigglekow said that the Park Board has been undervaluing its parks’ revenue potentials, and cities like Chicago and New York charge much more for permits.
Instead of approving the new fees, the commissioners decided to direct staff to negotiate with nonprofit organizations that hold major annual events and figure out a long-term implementation plan for the fee increases.
Residents may also notice greater fees in everyday park activities. For example, sailboat buoy rentals will rise from $300 to $400; canoe rack rentals will jump from $100 to $150; and off-leash dog park permits will grow from $25 to $35.
Ice skating rink closures were another topic of contention during the meeting. The budget recommends closing rinks at Brackett, Waite, Shingle Creek, Harrison, Powderhorn and Loring parks due to high operating costs and low
Commissioner-at-large Annie Young was upset that staff hadn’t decided to close one rink in each district and suggested that Southwest give up a rink.
“What’s going on between the rich and the poor?” she yelled. “Bob Fine [commissioner for much of Southwest], you start closing some of your damn rinks!”
General Manager Michael Schmidt said that staff didn’t use commissioner districts as a criterion for deciding which rinks would close.
Most of the resident feedback regarding rink closures focused on Powerhorn Park, which the MPRB reported has decreased attendance. The board decided to amend the budget to remove Powderhorn from the list of rinks to close and come up with an alternative for 2009.
Weather also plays a role in the Park Board’s ability to keep rinks open. According to MPRB officials, if a rink isn’t up and running due to weather by Jan. 7, it will remain closed for the whole season.
Many commissioners expressed sympathy toward residents who were upset over the tight budget. President Jon Olson, whose district includes North Minneapolis, said the board would have more money if it didn’t have to pay a Data Practices Officer to retrieve documents that members of the public have requested through the Data Privacy Act. He chalked up the need to “four or five individuals who have no lives” â€” likely referring to members of Park Watch, a MRPB watchdog group.
Board passes communication plan with the city
At the Dec. 5 meeting, the Park Board adopted a resolution listing steps the city and its independent boards can take to improve their relationships. Under the resolution, the groups would formalize their information-sharing process by exchanging briefings about major initiatives twice a year; forming a nonvoting Coordinating Committee composed of two members from each independent board, the mayor, City Council president, and chair of the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee to meet twice a year; hold regular social gatherings among the elected officials; instruct their respective employees to work together on overlapping projects; and coordinate their work at the state Legislature.
President Jon Olson was skeptical about how much the resolution would improve the Park Board’s relationship with the city.
“I haven’t found a lot of openness with the city and the mayor on trying to solve problems,” he said. “I really don’t know how this is going to make anything better.”
Commissioner Young countered that the Park Board should at least make an effort to work with the city, comparing their situation to finding peace in the Middle East.
Contact Mary O’Regan at email@example.com or 436-5088.