The following article by Ben Johnson was published in the October 18, issue of the Southwest Journal:
Preliminary 2014 Park Board Budget Revealed
Proposed Park Board budget includes special levy for new trees
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent Jayne Miller has proposed a 2014 budget for the parks system that includes a special levy to help pay for the replacement of distressed ash trees and trees lost during heavy storms.
Combined, the two levies proposed for the Park Board would result in a 2.1 percent property tax increase over 2013, according to the budget plan she presented to the Park Board on Oct. 15.
The recommended 2014 budget calls for roughly $66.05 million for the park system’s general operating fund, $1.19 million for the special fund for new trees and $9.95 million for the enterprise operating fund.
According to the Park Board, Minneapolis has lost 11,000 trees due to violent storms since 2011, and will eventually lose another 40,000 more due to the Emerald Ash Borer infestation.
The Park Board planted 5,200 new trees in 2013, and is adding six new full-time workers to the forestry department next year.
The Park Board will also be receiving $9 million in Local Government Aid from the state — a $1.4 million increase from last year, but still down from a high of $11 million in 2006.
Park Board President John Erwin said he didn’t see any big surprises in this year’s budget, calling it a “kind of a status quo budget.”
A much maligned $25 per participant fee leveled on outside organizations that wish to play in Minneapolis youth sports leagues will be eliminated next year. For the last few months, several speakers at Park Board meetings have railed against the fee, arguing that it unfairly targets low-income households and parks that are not staffed by parks personnel. The fee was instituted in 2013.
The Rec Plus program and summer day camp offerings will be expanded and the Park Board is hiring the equivalent to nearly eight full-time employees to handle the anticipated growth.
Next year the Park Board will be adding a total of 21 full-time jobs to its payroll.
A new trash collection and recycling program going into effect in 2014 is expected to save more than 12,000 hours of labor each year. New automated trash collection equipment and plastic trash bins that don’t require bags are among the measures that are expected to improve recycling and reduce employee injuries.
Fees for half-day and full-day picnic shelter rentals will be increased by $25 across the board. There will also be a 5 percent increase in revenue from adult recreation fees. Most notably, sailing lessons will go up $30–$40, swimming lessons will go up $5–$15, and broomball registration will go up $10.
Legal fees have continued to rise due to complicated court cases involving the Crown Hydro proposal and the Twin Cities Pride Festival held in Loring Park. As a result, an additional $50,000 has been budgeted for legal fees in 2014.
At the Oct. 15 meeting Miller said that in the future capital investment needs will far outpace the park system’s capacity to pay for them. That is why starting next year a sizable investment will be made in the planning department, to ensure that wise, farsighted decisions are made in future capital improvements.
The 162-page 2014 budget also noted that needed IT and technology upgrades and rising health care, construction, and pension costs could cause financial troubles in the future. To view the 2014 MPRB budget, go to http://www.minneapolisparks.org/budget.