Civic beat :: Local-government aid cut

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March 1, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Governor’s idea: $29 million less for Minneapolis

Another bad economic year for the state, another cut to local-government aid.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Feb. 15 unveiled his proposal for filling in a $1.2 billion gap in the state’s budget, tightening spending on health care and higher education. In his announcement, Pawlenty put extra emphasis on a number of tax cuts that he said would benefit small businesses and corporations and thus stimulate statewide job growth.

For Minneapolis, more pressing was the governor’s suggestion that another $250 million be trimmed from aid to cities and counties, a move that would translate to a $29 million hit for the city. About $3.4 million of that would be cut from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

On top of a $21 million cut made last year, Minneapolis would be getting about $50 million less in LGA than it had anticipated for 2010.

“We made a conscious choice to set some priorities,” Pawlenty said while unveiling his proposal. “Candidly, now and in the future, given what the likely economic outlook for the state is, you can’t have a $2.1 billion LGA program. You just can’t.”

Democratic legislative leaders said Pawlenty’s budget doesn’t create solutions, largely because it relies on federal money that the state isn’t 100 percent sure it will get. Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said it would be inaccurate to call it a balanced budget.

Said House majority leader Tony Sertich, “The governor’s philosophy is to put it off until he’s out of office.”

Pawlenty isn’t seeking reelection.

Also at play is a case that challenges the governor’s decision last year to unilaterally balance the budget. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments this month, and if it ultimately finds against Pawlenty, the state could see an additional $2.7 billion budget gap.

Both the city and the Park Board already are in preliminary stages of revising their 2010 budgets.

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Plank Road fix up to Congress?

The wood-beam stretch of West River Parkway behind Mill City Museum could be reopened as early as this summer — if the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board successfully lobbies the federal government.

Plank Road, as the Park Board calls it, has been put atop the board’s federal legislative agenda. The board is seeking about $500,000, which likely would be just over the cost of pulling out the wood beams and covering the stretch with asphalt or concrete, project manager Nick Eoloff said.

That would take care of the reasons Plank Road was closed in October, after numerous complaints from drivers and nearby residents that it was both noisy and dangerous. Bolts holding the wood down were known to jut out, sometimes by inches.

Second on the Park Board’s list of federal legislative priorities is funding for renovations to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, followed by funding to fill the gap in the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System.

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Lumberyard site’s cost: $8.65 million

The 14-acre Northeast riverfront site of Scherer Bros. Lumber Co., on which the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board already has made an earnest money down payment, will cost about $14.35 per square foot, or $8.65 million in its entirety.

That’s according to a new report from Planning Director Judd Rietkerk. When the down payment was approved in December, an appraisal was ongoing. He called the figure, which is just above the appraised value, “a fairly good deal,” especially when considering that the land would not have to be condemned.

If it moves forward, the Park Board likely won’t foot the bill alone. Parks staff has talked with relevant stakeholders, and there appears to be a consensus that only a portion of the site — stretching up to about 200 feet from the Mississippi River — be turned into parkland, Rietkerk said. For the remainder, the Park Board is looking into partnering with the city to find a developer or private funding source.

There are no exact plans for what the park would ultimately look like, but staff suggestions have included developing trails and open space. The site currently is entirely industrial.

Commissioner Bob Fine said it’s less important to have exact goals in mind now — or to even be in a hurry to develop the site for parks purposes — than it is to go ahead and lock up the land for the Park Board.

“If it’s sold to someone else,” Fine said, “we’ll never see it again.”