Park cuts: wading pools may survive, but so might milfoil

Facing $3.5 million in cuts, the Park Board will also close beaches, eliminate toilets and turn off fountains

This year, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will:

 

  • Close four of the seven beaches and two fishing docks on the Chain of Lakes;

     

     

  • Reduce milfoil harvesting and park mowing;

     

     

  • Charge youth sports participation fees (a first);

     

     

  • Eliminate all chemical toilets;

     

     

  • Turn off display fountains;

     

     

  • Eliminate a summer youth employment/park clean-up program; and

     

     

  • Leave more than two dozen vacancies unfilled — including eight foresters, three park keepers and three recreation coordinators.

     

    Take a breath and get ready for more.

    The Park Board cut $3.5 million from its 2003 budget March 19 and anticipates cutting an added $4 million from its 2004 budget later this year. That assumes a wage freeze, said Don Siggelkow, assistant superintendent of finance. If wages go up, the cuts will be deeper still.

    The Park Board made 2003 cuts quickly and with minimal public input, Siggelkow said. It was spending its 2003 budget faster than it could afford. "Every day we don’t make a decision, the clock ticks away and the decisions get harder and harder," he said.

    Wading pools

    The board may reconsider some of its hastily made 2003 cuts. For instance, it proposed closing 24 of 52 wading pools, including all nine in Southwest south of Lake Street. The closings would save $50,000, but residents have called in protest, saying the wading pools were a traditional area for social gathering.

    Rae Ann Vandeputte of Fulton has two kids, 1 and 4, and has been circulating flyers to preschools and a petition in the neighborhood to get the Park Board to reverse its decision. "I am on a mission," she said.

    Southwest area wading pools are:

     

  • Armatage, 2500 W. 57th St.;

     

     

  • Bryant Square, 3101 Bryant Ave. S.;

     

     

  • Fuller, 4800 Grand Ave. S.;

     

     

  • Kenny, 1328 W. 58th St.;

     

     

  • Martin Luther King Jr., 4055 Nicollet Ave. S.;

     

     

  • Linden Hills, 3100 W. 43rd St.;

     

     

  • Lynnhurst, 1345 W. Minnehaha Parkway;

     

     

  • Pershing, 3523 W. 48th St.; and

     

     

  • Lyndale School, 3333 Grand Ave. S.

     

    Michael Schmidt, assistant superintendent for maintenance, said Southwest pools were targeted for cuts because families can go to the lakes.

    The Park Board President Bob Fine said he believes the board would overturn the cuts, but would have to cut $50,000 some place else. One possibility: eliminating one of the two milfoil harvesters, he said.

    The board would reconsider the wading pool cut April 2 (after Journal press time) or Wednesday, April 9, Fine said. Wading pools open in mid- to late-May, park staff said.

    In planning for the 2004 budget cuts, the Park Board would put all programs and services back on the table and have a broader community discussion of priorities, Siggelkow said.

    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," Fine said.

    By the end of 2004, the Park Board will have 17 percent less tax money to support parks than it did in 2002, if the Pawlenty plan passes, according to staff estimates.

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

    Specific cuts

    Here are cuts of particular note to Southwest.

     

  • Beaches: The Park Board will not staff five of 11 beaches this summer, saving $58,600. It will close two of the three Lake Calhoun beaches and one beach at each two-beach lake (Harriet, Cedar and Nokomis). The Park Board has not yet decided which specific beaches to close.

     

     

  • Fishing docks: Lakes Harriet and Calhoun each have two fishing docks. Closing one dock per lake will save $15,000.

     

     

  • Display fountains: Not running or maintaining display fountains will save $30,000. This affects the Heffelfinger and Turtle fountains in the Rose Garden and the water feature at the Lake Harriet Rock Garden; the World War II Memorial to Horses Fountain at Kenwood Parkway and Lake of the Isles Boulevard; the Berger Fountain in Loring Park and the Seven Pools Fountain at Thomas Lowry Park, Douglas and Colfax avenues.

     

     

  • Toilets: The Park Board has had roughly 100 chemical toilets in 40 locations around the city, Schmidt said. Cutting them saves $60,000.

     

     

  • Hiring freeze: 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 Schmidt. "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."

     

  • Youth employment: Eliminating Teen Teamworks, a summer jobs program that employed 240 youth, saves $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.

     

     

  • Overtime: A $134,000 cut in the park’s overtime budget will reduce mowing and milfoil harvesting by roughly 33 percent, Schmidt said. Crews used to work six days a week, 10 hours a day. They will now work 40 hours a week.

     

     

  • New fees: The Park Board anticipates getting $125,000 from parking meters in regional parks. It will charge a $5 participation fee for youth athletics, raising $45,500.

     

    Other items cut include roof and furnace repairs ($331,000); equipment purchases ($224,000); park maintenance ($111,000); training, education and travel ($108,000); legal services ($108,000); environmental education ($45,000); cell phones ($40,000) and mounted patrol ($30,000).

    Siggelkow said if state cuts are less than expected, or if the Park Board gets added savings from the hiring freeze, the top funding priorities would be reopening the wading pools, adding back chemical toilets, and increased milfoil harvesting.