Civic beat // Park Board wrangles with budget, possible tax hikes

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November 19, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

Should the Minneapolis Park Board cut recreation center hours, tree plantings and aquatic invasive species inspections? Or should it instead raise property taxes by as much as 3 percent?

That’s what Park Board commissioners are contemplating as they debate a 2013 budget that needs to be approved by Dec. 12. 

Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller proposed a budget in late October that would reduce recreation center operation hours to 14 per week at Audubon, Kenny, Lyndale Farmstead, Corcoran, Brackett and Morris parks. Most of those centers are currently open about 28 hours a week. 

Miller’s budget would also reduce tree plantings to 1,500 in 2013, much less than the 4,500 trees that are lost each year in the city. 

The proposed budget also raises activity fees by $10 per participant, but it does, however, keep property taxes flat.

Some Park Board commissioners aren’t comfortable with the cuts. 

Commissioner Bob Fine said many residents identify their neighborhood by its recreation center.

“It’s a central point of each neighborhood, so we have to think about where we are going when we reduce the number of hours,” he said. 

Commissioner Scott Vreeland said tree plantings should be a priority, and suggested the Park Board pursue a 3 percent tax hike, the maximum levy increase allowed by the Minneapolis Board of Estimation and Taxation. 

Park Board President John Erwin said he also supports a tax increase in order to maintain programming and to give pay raises to employees. 

“A zero percent levy increase is not acceptable. I think it will be detrimental to this institution for the reasons I mentioned,” Erwin said. “So I am going to be supporting some levy increase, the question is just how much.”

Commissioner Anita Tabb said she was uneasy about supporting a tax hike. 

“I don’t know that I will be supportive of that,” she said. 

At the same meeting the Park Board was debating the $88,000 cut to recreation center hours, it also approved a dog park construction contract at Lyndale Farmstead Park. That project’s budget has increased from $135,000 to $215,000 since last winter due to drainage issues at the chosen site for the park. 

That expense rankled some in the community, who said the Park Board had its priorities wrong. Matt Perry voted against the dog park when he was on a citizens committee tasked with choosing a site. 

“[The] same meeting that approves a $215,000 dog park proposes to reduce hours at neighborhood parks,” he said. “Priorities are upside down.”

Dog park supporters, however, say dog parks generate revenue for the Park Board through user fees. By adding another dog park, permit purchases are expected to grow. 

In 2011, the Park Board sold 5,161 dog park permits, generating $191,360 in revenue, according to figures from the Park Board. The dog parks cost about $118,000 a year to maintain and for police enforcement. Over the past five years, the city’s half-dozen dog parks gave generated about $50,000 a year in profit. 

The Park Board had to use reserve funds to make up for the $80,000 dog park funding gap, but Erwin said the reserve fund would be paid back through dog park permit revenues. 

The Park Board will take public comment on its budget on Nov. 28 at the Park Board Headquarters, 2117 West River Road. 

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.