Park Board, City Council at Odds Over Parkway Funding

The following article by Nick Halter was published in the May 13, 2013 issue of the Southwest Journal:


Correction: Brad Bourn cited a lack of information about possible effects to parkway paving projects as his reason for abstaining from the vote.

Because of a rift between the Minneapolis Park Board and City Council, repairs to the Theodore Wirth Parkway scheduled for this summer have been cancelled.

Some Park Board Commissioners last week blasted the City Council for playing politics with $7 million that city staff found in unspent 2012 funds. Council members voted to put that money into a property tax savings fund, saying it would allow them to keep property taxes flat next year.

The Park Board was prepared to send the city just over $1 million to be used for parkway paving and lighting projects this summer, but instead cut out $300,000 that will instead be used for the Sheridan Memorial Park project: along the Northeast riverfront. That project, a memorial to veterans, was supposed to cost $1 million, but bids came in $300,000 higher than expected.

“Why would we short change the residents of this neighborhood right across the river who have waited forever for a neighborhood park so that the city can make a political statement and try to gain favor in an election year by saying ‘we’re not going to raise your taxes at all?” said Park Board Commissioner Jon Olson, who represents North Minneapolis.

From a taxpayer standpoint, whether the city or Park Board spends the $300,000 makes no difference, since the property tax jurisdictions are the same. However, because of the Park Board move, the city had to alter its construction schedule and repairs to the Theodore Wirth Parkway were cancelled, said city spokesman Matt Laible. New lighting along West River Road was also cut, Laible said.

The $300,000 reduction, which passed on a 6-2 vote, has apparently taken City Council members by surprise.

Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who chairs the Transportation and Public Works Committee, only learned of the decision while watching a broadcast of the Park Board meeting on TV.

“If you listen to the Park Board, they talk about ‘these are our parkways, these are our parks.’ But then at some points, they say ‘these are roads, so the city should pave them.’ They kind of try to have it both ways,” Colvin Roy said.

Council Member Betsy Hodges, who chairs the city budget committee, said no one from the Park Board contacted her to ask for $300,000.

“Someone certainly could have called and had that conversation,” Hodges said.

The Park Board and city disagree about who should be responsible for parkways. Park Board commissioners have cited a 1999 “redesign” agreement: between the two parties that had the city assuming responsibility for parkway maintenance and repairs.

According to a document provided by the Park Board, the City Council voted 11-1 to assume parkway responsibility:

“It was very clear that the city was doing not just our repairs, but replacement work. Any council member who says that wasn’t the agreement does not know what the agreement was,” Fine said.

Colvin Roy said the agreement was much more vague than that.

“His memory of what the redesign is different than anyone’s here,” Colvin Roy said.

As a result of a 2011 study that showed failing parkways —  their pavement index condition had fallen to a score of 60 — the Park Board decided to start sending the city money in order to speed up parkway paving.  This year it was planning to send the Park Board just over $1 million for paving and lighting.

“Our primary and first concern is the park system,” Erwin said. “It’s great that we’re helping the city out with the roads, but I have a concern when we’re shorting parks to pay for things that … the city agreed to do to begin with.”

Erwin said it’s not too late for the city to free up money for Theodore Wirth Parkway repairs.

Not all Park Board commissioners agreed with the move. Anita Tabb and Carol Kummer voted against the motion, but ultimately Tabb voted for the larger parkway paving resolution, which included the reduction. Brad Bourn abstained from the vote, saying that he needed more information on how the cut would affect parkway projects, paticularly Kings Highway.
 “I feel uncomfortable vilifying the city for trying to do something that they thought was right,” Tabb said. “I would hope that maybe we could sit down and talk to them about using some of those additional funds.”

Colvin Roy said the people who lose in the fight are those who live near and use the parkway that won’t be funded.

“Property taxpayers would scratch their heads and go, ‘what do you mean the park or the city? We’re the same taxpayers,’” Colvin Roy said. “That’s how I feel.”