The Mayor's Veto Letter to the Park Board

THE MAYOR’S VETO LETTER TO THE PARK BOARD

The following letter sent to the to the Park Board on July 8 outlines the reasons for the Mayor’s veto of the Park Board’s resolution to terminate its financial dependence on the city by placing a charter amendment on the November ballot, allowing it to go directly to the Legislature for funding.

July 8, 2009

President Tom Nordyke
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
400 South Fourth Street, Suite 200
Minneapolis, MN 55415-1097

Park Board President Tom Nordyke and Park Board Members:

I have vetoed both Park Board Action 9.2, that the Board adopt Resolution 2009-155 and Resolution 2009-155, as passed by the Park Board on July 1, 2009.

I love parks. I believe our Minneapolis Parks are an essential part of what makes Minneapolis a great place to live, work and play. I want to work with you to address the challenges faced by the Park Board.

But this action would open the door to unlimited property tax increases. I strongly oppose this for the following three reasons:

FINANCIAL IMPACT

First, I believe it will result in huge property tax increases, over and above those painful increases which are already being forced by state LGA cuts and skyrocketing pension obligations.

Over the past seven years I have served as Mayor, I am proud to say we have paid down or avoided almost $90 million dollars in debts. Paying down those inherited debts has allowed us to redirect money to crucial services like
police, fire, and parks. The amenities we love, including Parks, depend on sound budgeting to keep them strong, not just for today, but for generations to come.

INCORRECT PREMISE

My second objection to this amendment is that it is based on an incorrect premise. The false premise is that the Park Board has been unfairly treated by the City Council’s revenue policies. The Park Board’s rhetoric cites one
statistic in isolation, namely that the Park board levies have been held to 4% per year while the city has received 8% each year. What this ignores is the fact that the City pays for shared costs out of the City portion. These shared
costs include pension obligations, internal service fund debts and capital debt service. When you factor in these other costs, you find that 4% and 8% are not remotely representative of the whole picture. You find that:

● Property tax revenue and LGA used for General Fund activities of the City have increased an average of 3.29% annually since 2003.
● Property tax revenue and LGA used for Park Board activities have increased an average of 2.13% annually since 2003.
● The difference is attributable to the City’s restoration of funding for public safety, which includes public safety service provided in Parks by the City.

This general information has been provided to the Park Board on many previous occasions and these specific numbers were provided to the Park Board by Finance Director Pat Born on April 1, 2009.

I am open to discussing how those shared costs should be paid for. Currently they are paid for out of the City’s share. They could also be paid for “off the top,” before other dollars are allocated. I am open to that. But I am not open to ignoring these costs.

As long as I am Mayor, I will not let us go back to the days when huge debts were accumulated without any regard to how that would affect taxpayers or our shared ability to deliver crucial services like Police, Fire, Parks and Public
Works. As irresponsible budget actions at the State have shown us, short term financial band-aids have long term consequences. I will not support such actions – and I will not support this amendment.

A DESIRE TO TACKLE TOUGH ISSUES TOGETHER

My third reason for opposing this amendment is that is a misdirection from the real issues that face both the City and the Parks.

To perpetuate the idea that the Park Board’s financial challenges are caused by the City is to waste precious time and resources and ignore the real causes of
our shared challenges, which are first, state aid cuts and second, skyrocketing pension obligations. Both of these require Legislative action.

But even today with pension costs skyrocketing, the Park Board has still failed to support the City and its taxpayers in our efforts to end pension abuses. Here’s an example you are already aware of: When the 35W bridge collapsed, the
overtime of just three Minneapolis Police Officers increased City pension obligations by over million dollars. This is just one example of a broader problem: millions of dollars that could have been used to support Police, Fire,
Parks, Public Works and other city services have instead been used to bail out irresponsible pension systems.

This is just one example of issues we should be working on together to our mutual benefit. Common efforts on LGA would be of even more importance.

As I said above, I love parks. I believe our Minneapolis Parks are an essential part of what makes Minneapolis a great place to live, work and play. I believe
the citizens of Minneapolis agree they also love their parks. But it would be a mistake to assume that because people love parks, they don’t also expect us
to be good stewards of their tax dollars. The ensuing public debate will reflect this, if this ill-advised charter amendment ends up on the ballot in November.

I hope we can set aside this amendment and instead work together to address our shared financial challenges. I look forward to that common effort.

R.T. Rybak
Mayor of Minneapolis