Downtown amenities take hits in park cuts

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March 31, 2003 // UPDATED 9:31 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

No New Year's Eve party, a dry Berger Fountain and no riverfront toilets

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will reduce maintenance along the Mississippi riverfront this summer, eliminate all chemical toilets, let Loring Park's Berger Fountain sit dry and cancel the Downtown New Year's Eve Party unless a sponsor comes forward to foot the bill.

The cuts were part of a $3.5 million package unanimously passed by the Park Board March 19. The board overhauled its previously approved 2003 budget anticipating the loss of state aid it needs to pay for programs and park upkeep this year.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed cuts in state support for regional parks and Local Government Aid -- money received by the city and shared with the parks, parks staff said.

"The impact of the state's budget deficit, coupled with our sluggish economy means that deep cuts must be made," said Board President Bob Fine.

The cuts are expected to continue next year. By the end of 2004, the Park Board anticipates having $9.1 million less tax money to support parks than it had in 2002, according to staff estimates. That translates to a 17 percent cut.

The Park Board had 2002 tax revenues of $52.3 million, said Don Siggelkow, assistant superintendent for finance. It expects tax revenues to drop to $47.2 million in 2003 and $43.2 million in 2004.

The Board got to its $3.5 million target by making lots of small cuts, like the $17,000 it saves by not paying for the New Year's Eve party, held last year on Nicollet Island. Ceasing operation of the Berger Fountain and four other fountains and water features saves $30,000 in water and maintenance costs.

The Park Board has had roughly 100 chemical toilets in 40 locations citywide, including the Downtown riverfront. Eliminating them saves $60,000, budget documents said.

The board also cut a summer teen jobs program that employed 240 youth called Teen Teamworks, saving $186,000. Schmidt said the kids did the park "polishing" -- picking up trash, sifting tot lot sand, raking shoreline debris, putting wood chips on shrub beds, and cleaning after neighborhood festivals.

The biggest single savings the Park Board got came from a hiring freeze. The Board will leave 27 jobs vacant, including eight arborists, three park keepers and three recreation coordinators, saving $1.5 million. That number could grow as more staff leave or retire.

"We are down one full forestry crew. That is going to hurt," said Michael Schmidt, assistant superintendent for maintenance. "With tree planting and Dutch Elm Disease, if there are any storms that require cleanup, I don't have the ability to pull in a group of seasonal tree trimmers to take care of the problem."

Other cuts include reducing overtime costs by $134,000, which will reduce things like moving and milfoil harvesting by 33 percent. Deferring costs for roof and furnace repairs saves $331,000. Closing five beaches saves $58,600; closing 24 wading pools saves $50,000; and closing two fishing docks saves $15,000.

The Park Board plans to raise new money too.

It anticipates getting $125,000 from parking meters in regional parks. It will charge a $5 participation fee for youth athletics -- a first -- raising $45,500.

Siggelkow said if state cuts are less the expected, or if the Park Board gets added savings from the hiring freeze, the it will first reopen the 24 closed wading pools, bring back the chemical toilets, and pay for overtime for milfoil harvesting in the lakes.