Park Board Approves 2016 Budget

The following article by Eric Best, dated December 11, 2015, was published in the Southwest Journal.

Park Board Approves 2016 Budget

Park commissioners quickly and quietly passed the system’s 2016 budget Dec. 9 following a lengthy Minneapolis City Council hearing.The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted 8-1 to approve Superintendent Jayne Miller’s nearly $71 million recommended 2016 budget. Commissioners took just a few minutes to pass several items pertaining to the budget after a roughly three-hour round of public testimony before Council members.

The budget is based on a 4.4 percent increase to the board’s property tax levy, which includes a 4 percent increase for the board and a .4 percent increase for the Tree Preservation & Reforestation Fund, a special fund to address tree loss across the park system. The levy comes to $52.6 million for the board and $1.7 million for the tree fund.

Next year, 8 cents of every Minneapolis property tax dollar will go to the Park Board.

District 6 Commissioner Brad Bourn was the sole no vote.

During a Dec. 2 meeting, Bourn attempted to make amendments to direct various funds to projects at Lyndale Farmstead Park and Painter Park, which failed to garner additional votes.

He also tried and failed to pass a motion amending the budget to include a formal stance — with a $1 price tag — opposing the current name of Lake Calhoun, named for South Carolina politician and slavery supporter John C. Calhoun.

At-Large Commissioner John Erwin passed an amendment during the Dec. 2 meeting to increase the board’s canoe rack rental fee by $10 in order to fund youth athletic scholarships.

Staff estimated the change could raise about $5,000 for the board’s scholarship fund. While the additional scholarship money won’t increase participation of the board’s youth sports leagues, which don’t turn families who are unable to pay away, Miller said it would increase revenue for the activities that waive fees.

The budget includes an increase of roughly eight new full-time additions to the board’s workforce, a step that Miller has said is meant to correct for heavy handed cuts made in the past.

The board proactively let go of 136 full-time positions — nearly a fourth of its workforce — between 2003 and 2012. Since 2013 the board has added 28 full-time employees under Miller’s leadership.

The board will be adding a parkkeeper, plumber, athletic program manager, human resources coordinator, a new clerical staff member and a youth development supervisor.

Miller had also recommend adding staff at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden at Theodore Wirth Park and the Webber Natural Swimming Pool in North Minneapolis. The budget also moves one park patrol agent to full-time employment.

The budget is the first to include funds from a park dedication fee from new construction projects that started last year. Several parks would get park dedications dollars, such as $4,600 for Bethune, $3,042 for Folwell, $12,900 for Matthews and $3,900 for Phelps.

The budget overhauls fees associated with golf, a major issue for the board in recent years.

Instead of a flat fee for all courses, the budget introduces tiered costs based on course quality, location and the customer base with $1-4 price increases per round.

It also includes maintenance for Meadowbrook Golf Course, which was devastated by a spring 2014 storm, while it’s restored next year. A nine-hole Hiawatha is expected to be open next year.

While it was not brought up during the Dec. 9 meeting, Miller hosts earlier budget meetings in relation to the board’s Closing the Gap initiative to address its growing $111 million funding gap with its neighborhood parks.

Commissioners have said a referendum is the clearest option before them, though the board has worked with cities across the county who faced similar problems in different ways. Miller has said she’s preparing to ask for roughly $14 million or more per year over what will likely be a decade or more. The board could pursue a referendum in the next couple of years.

“The parks are the gems of the city but capital investments and funds for maintaining the parks, particularly the neighborhood parks, have not kept pace with the growing use of, and demands on, the park system,” Miller said in a statement. “Since becoming superintendent five years ago, there have been tremendous efforts by the board and the staff to address this issue, but we are facing a stark reality; unless we deal with the growing capital and maintenance shortfall, neighborhood parks will continue to deteriorate.”

Commissioners are expected to make a decision next month regarding a solution for neighborhood park funding.