Parks confront budget woes

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would lose at least $7 million in anticipated state aid over the next two years, which translates into a 14 percent budget cut, under the state budget proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The state would cut the Park Board’s share of Local Government Aid (LGA) by $3 million in 2003 and $3.5 million in 2004, according to an analysis prepared by Don Siggelkow, the board’s assistant commissioner for administration. That’s nearly 50 percent of the Park Board’s current LGA.

The Park Board would lose an added $500,000 in cuts from lottery funds, regional park funding and youth employment grants, he said.

The city of Minneapolis gets the LGA from the state and gives a percentage to the Park Board. The analysis assumes the city continues to give the Park Board the same share.

The Governor’s proposal could mean roughly 110 jobs lost, Siggelkow said. If all departments shared the cuts equally based on their budgets, it would mean eliminating 37 park maintenance workers, 24 recreation staff, 17 forestry workers, 10 park police and more.

Pawlenty released his budget-balancing plan Feb. 18. It cuts LGA by roughly 22 percent, but some cities, like Minneapolis, are hit harder than others.

"We will be at the legislature making our case, along with the city why local government aid is so important to our funding," Siggelkow said.

The Park Board plans a retreat on Thursday, March 6, to discuss budget cuts, he said. In late March and April, the Board would hold focus groups to discuss budget issues with park councils and other heavy park users.

"They know the services we provide and would be hit hardest," he said.

District-wide public meetings would follow, he said.

Parkway crossing

The East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO) is asking the Park Board to install stop signs on East Calhoun Parkway between West 33rd and West 34th streets, near the Zen Center, for a one-year test.

Neighborhood organizers have gathered a petition with more than 600 signatures supporting the stop signs, said Erik Hansen, ECCO’s NRP coordinator. They plan to present them to the Park Board, along with neighborhood letters of support on Wednesday, March 19. They encourage supporters to attend — and wear red.

The crossing provides access to the tot lot next to the lake. The neighborhood has sought to improve the crossing’s safety since 2000, when the tot lot opened. Residents say motorists don’t slow for pedestrians, making the crossing dangerous.

The Park Board rejected a request to install a pedestrian-activated flashing light in 2002, because it was unclear whether flashing lights improved safety, or only gave a false sense of security.

Isles update

The Park Board expects to have new drawings of Lake of the Isles shoreline changes to show surrounding neighborhoods by April or May, said Cliff Swenson, project manager.

The Park Board had planned to carve away parts of the West Bay and north arm greenspace to create new wetlands to comply with state wetland replacement laws. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District voted in November to exempt the project from those requirements, minimizing the need for shoreline changes.

Swenson said the Park Board is meeting with the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers to make sure the project complies with federal wetland requirements.

In an unrelated matter, the Park Board will have to spend between $100,000 and $150,000 to clean up cinders found while creating a new .7-acre wetland east of the off-leash dog park at Lake of the Isles.

The railroad company most likely used the cinders to fill the area, Swenson said.

The contaminants are at the surface and do not pose an air or water pollution threat, but the Park Board doesn’t want kids playing in them, he said.

"Our goal is to cap it with one foot of soil to meet Minnesota Pollution Control Agency guidelines," Swenson said.