Park news

Isles to get new wetland — and disruptions
Work on a new wetland in Lake of the Isles’ southwest corner is set to start mid-October, and lake users should expect truck traffic and a one-day lane restriction, according to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Work is expected to last three to four weeks. It will include an upgrade of the nearby playing field.

The new wetland will be west of the off-leash dog park, on the side of the parkway away from the lake. Work will require major excavation. The new wetland will double as a flood-storage area, similar to the wetland on the southeast end of the lake created in 2001.

In an effort to keep the parkway open, trucks hauling excess soil will exit onto West 28th Street and continue along Dean Parkway to Lake Street. The Park Board said to expect "up to a week’s worth of hauling days" during the project.

Traffic on a portion of the parkway will be limited to one lane for up to a day, while workers install a pipe under the road to equalize the wetland with the lake.

The work is part of a larger multi-million dollar plan to upgrade Lake of the Isles, begun in 2001. It is an effort to fix flood damage, fill sunken areas and improve walking paths and the parkway.

Heavy rains and high water delayed replacement of the West Bay retaining wall and stabilization work on the east shoreline. The dry spell since the June 24 storm — a drought that has the Fire Department hosing down young trees — has been a boon to Lake of the Isles repairs.

Workers set the last retaining wall panel Sept. 16, a news release said. The pedestrian path that runs along the retaining wall should be done by early October.

The project’s next phase includes filling in large sections of the West Bay and North Arm — raising the walking paths above the 100-year flood level. The Park Board will use a special compression technique to ensure the repairs are long lasting, the release said.

The fill work will start in the winter/spring of 2004, depending on the weather and the securing of permits. — Scott Russell

Parks propose 2004 cuts An 8 percent budget cut means fewer beaches, fishing docks, seven-day-a-week centers and full-time workers

The Park Board will hold a public hearing on the budget Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2117 W. River Road N. and will vote on the budget in late October or early November.

By Scott Russell Minneapolis Parks Chief Mary Merrill Anderson is proposing $4 million worth of cuts in the 2004 budget that would reduce the number of fishing docks; close some beaches at Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Cedar Lake; and end seven-day-a-week park centers throughout the city and Southwest.

In a proposal to the Minneapolis and Recreation Board Sept. 10, Anderson also proposed cutting 15 full-time park keepers’ jobs in 2004 and replacing them with various part-time seasonal workers — a move that would save $518,000.

The budget cuts 8 percent from 2003’s $50.9 million tax-supported budget, not counting enterprise or internal services funds. (Enterprise funds are self-supporting, such as the golf courses, and do not require tax funds.) The Board is planning its budget in the face of declining state aid.

Cuts proposed by the Superintendent include:

Eliminate the seven-day-a-week recreation centers program begun in 2001. The move would save almost $1 million: $550,000 in recreation, $325,000 in the maintenance and $102,000 in police costs. Thirteen centers had seven-day programming. The Park Board already cut them earlier this year for 2003. This makes the cut permanent. Affected Southwest area parks are: Whittier, 2600 Grand Ave.; Lynnhurst, 1345 W. Minnehaha Parkway; Kenwood 2101 W. Franklin Ave.; and Martin Luther King, Jr., 4055 Nicollet Ave.

Some proposed cuts that citizens will notice produce relatively small savings. The Park Board would save $15,000 by having only one fishing dock per lake. The recommendations also include a $40,000 savings by closing four beaches — including Harriet South, Cedar South and Lake Calhoun at West 32nd Street. Both the beach and fishing dock closings were begun this year. (If the Park Board votes to reopen the beaches, it also has to vote to restore overtime pay for milfoil harvesting.)

The superintendent recommends saving $17,000 on its New Year’s Eve Party downtown. It will not occur unless a private sponsor stepped forward.

The biggest behind-the-scenes cuts involve full-time staff.

Full-time park keepers are paid approximately $20 an hour, plus benefits. They staff the warming houses for 10 weeks in the winter; during the warmer months they take care of general park maintenance — weeding, picking up trash, cleaning buildings, cutting grass, lining the athletic fields, cleaning the beaches and monitoring water quality in wading pools.

The Park Board would reduce staff by only one full-time equivalent position but would save money on salary and benefits. It would hire part-time recreation employees as warming house attendants, for instance, paying approximately $10 an hour with no benefits, said Assistant Superintendent Michael Schmidt. The Park Board would still have 17 full-time park keepers on staff.

The cuts will not require lay-offs. The Park Board began reducing services in 2003, and the cut positions are either vacant or the staff members indicated they would take early retirement.

Board Vice President Marie Hauser said she hated to eliminate full-time, jobs. She also worried that the part-time — and presumably less mature — staff would be able to cope with "situations that might arise" in the warming houses, she said.

Todd Pufahl, business manager for the city employees’ local 363, the union representing the park keepers, said, "clearly we are not happy about exchanging year-round benefited jobs for seasonal jobs."

Other internal cuts include:

Cut administration.The superintendent proposed cutting administration by $527,000 or 15 percent, including the elimination of four full-time positions. The largest single cut was $71,00 for support staff. Other cuts ranged from $20,000 on software maintenance to $10,000 for a photographer.

Eliminate supervisors: The superintendent has recommended reducing the number of supervisors in forestry, maintenance and recreation districts, cutting $361,000. In the case of maintenance, it means at the same time the Park Board potentially is adding less-experienced, seasonal staff, they will get less supervision.

Eliminate overtime for non-fee-supported services: This would save $190,000 at the cost of $100,000 in police overtime, $60,000 from equipment operators, notably milfoil harvesting, and $30,000 in general overtime.

The Park Board anticipates generating $242,000 in new revenue, in areas such as parking meters ($25,000) and increased adult program fees ($25,000). It is also considering selling posters of park fountains as a way to pay for their ongoing operation.

Some proposals are still taking shape. In November, the Park Board plans to discuss possible fee increases for exclusive use of the parks for events such as the Twin Cities Marathon.