Parks notebook

Commissioners speak up about NRP

At the Nov. 7 Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) meeting, commissioners went around the table expressing their thoughts on the potential demise of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP).

President Jon Olson initiated the discussion, saying that he believes continuing the program is a good idea. Commissioner-at-large Annie Young — one of the neighborhood representatives who helped start the program in the 1980s — agreed.

She called making NRP a city-run program appalling. "This is about power control," she said. "The city and City Council want power back."

Commissioner Scott Vreeland added that he is also involved in neighborhood organizations and has seen the benefits of NRP firsthand. "I am totally supportive of strong neighborhood groups and decentralized democracy," he said. "It really empowers folks."

Vice President Tracy Nordstrom, who represents the northern part of the Lakes District, is worried that neighborhood spirit would diminish without NRP.

The board plans to send a letter to the city expressing their support for keeping the program.

Dealing with a tight budget

Several commissioners have expressed concern about the potential consequences of the 2008 Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board budget, which is expected to be very tight. Responding to their questions at a recent meeting, Park Board General Manager Don Siggelkow said that staff has identified certain occupied positions that may be eliminated based on board priorities. "We’re also considering a hiring freeze," he added.

One commissioner asked about the possibility of getting more local government aid from the state, but according to Park Board attorney Brian Rice, that probably won’t happen.

In terms of the state’s revenue, he said, "It’s more likely that things will get worse rather than better."

On Nov. 28, Superintendent Jon Gurban will present his 2008 budget recommendations to the Park Board.

Park Board holding land for community garden

Hennepin County is in the process of conveying the Sooline Community Garden at 2845 S. Garfield Ave. to the Park Board. The space has been tax-forfeit land for more than a decade. Once under the Park Board’s control, with the support of the Whittier Alliance, the land will remain a public community garden indefinitely.

The popular green space stretches alongside the Midtown Greenway with native plantings, stone seating and 100 public plots. Maintenance of the plots switches each year, and there’s typically a 100-person waiting list.

Controlled burns at Kenwood Park

To help manage invasive species in prairies, wetlands and shorelines, the Park Board is conducting controlled burns at four parks this fall, including the prairie at Kenwood Park. Staff originally planned to begin the burn in October, but weather conditions weren’t right. Neighbors will receive notification by mail when the burn schedules are finalized.

According to Park Board documents, autumn burns take place after hard freezes kill vegetation. Several conditions must also be present, including relative humidity between 25 and 60 percent; temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees; wind speeds between 3 and 15 miles per hour; less than 70 percent cloud coverage; and no air quality alerts from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The MPRB Environmental Operations Department has certified staff members — one of whom must be present for a burn — and permits from the Fire Department and Department of Natural Resources.

Trail work on West Minnehaha Parkway continues

The MPRB is continuing to rehabilitate pedestrian bridges and repave trails that connect to West Minnehaha Parkway, a project that began in 2000. According to a staff report, work includes installing new railings, repaving and replacing concrete curb ramps at trailheads. The bridge at Lynnhurst Park, in particular, requires a welded bridge beam connection design for the hand railing that differs from those on other bridges. The entire project costs $54,371, using regional park grants.

Preventing emerald ash borer

The Park Board is asking residents to buy and use firewood locally to help prevent the spread of emerald ash borer, an exotic beetle whose larvae feeds on the inner bark of ash trees, inhibiting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Trees may die a few years after contamination. Bringing in ash firewood from other areas increases the chance of spreading the beetles.

Best Buy volunteers, donates money to Parks Foundation

On Sept. 28, 525 volunteers from Best Buy came to the Lakes District to spend a day cleaning up the parks. They gardened, picked up litter, renovated picnic tables, and cleaned and decorated recreation centers at Martin Luther King, Armatage, Kenny, and Fuller parks. At the Nov. 7 meeting, the company presented the Minneapolis Foundation for Parks with a check for $19,000.

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.

Parks notebook

Park Board pushing for hike in 2008 budget

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is disappointed with their proposed 2008 budget, according to a letter from Park Board President Jon Olson to Mayor R.T. Rybak. This fall, the board submitted their request for a 10.8 percent tax levy increase. The city responded by giving the board a 4 percent increase, which is about the same as last year.

MPRB General Manager Don Siggelkow says that the organization would be fine with a 4 percent increase, if they weren’t also facing a 2 percent decrease in Local Government Aid (LGA) and a 15 percent increase in health insurance costs. Factoring those in, the total increase will only end up being 2.5 percent.

The MPRB received $39,205,673 in property tax money in 2007. The rest of their budget consisted of $9,888,000 in LGA, $2,741,424 in rents, fines and fees, $982,105 in grants, and $495,000 in inter-department transfers.

In 2008, they can expect to get $40,942,461 in property taxes and $9,704,890 in LGA, with the rest of the funding sources staying about the same.

"The bottom line is that, given all that, our budget doesn’t fit within those constraints," Siggelkow explained. "We’ll have to adjust it, but what that means is we’re going to cut services and employees."

Residents can also expect fee increases,   he said. "When people come and ask why we’re doing this, we’re going to have to say, ‘Talk to the mayor.’"

Park Board commissioners will receive copies of the superintendent’s budget recommendations on Nov. 16 and hold a discussion about the recommendations at their Nov. 28 meeting.

Problems with DeLaSalle stadium agreement

DeLaSalle High School still faces several hurdles before construction can begin on its proposed athletic field on Nicollet Island.

The Park Board currently owns about half of the land where the stadium will go, having purchased it with a grant from state bond proceeds in the 1980s. Roughly two years ago, the MPRB entered into a Reciprocal-Use Agreement (RUA) with the school that must abide by state statutes because state money is involved. According to the state’s Assistant Commissioner of
Finance Peter Sausen, the current agreement doesn’t meet the necessary requirements.

"They have to make changes to the reciprocal use agreement and come back to us which they have not done yet," Sausen said.

Most of the necessary changes are over wording, said Sigglekow. He added that the Park Board didn’t even realize that the state’s Finance Department needed to sign off on the RUA because the bonds were issued so long ago. But a memo from MPRB Director of Planning Judd Rietkerk to DeLaSalle Trustee John Derus from Jan. 13, 2005 indicates that they knew the state would "have issues" with the deal.

"We don’t necessarily agree that they do have a purview over it," Siggelkow said, "but they feel it’s important, so we will conform to that."

MPRB staff plans to fix the RUA, get the finance commissioner’s approval, and then bring it before the Park Board commissioners on Nov. 28.

In addition to working out issues with the RUA, the landowners need to decide whether the field will have artificial or natural turf. When City Council approved the deal in August, they asked for natural grass on the field, but when the Park Board approved the project in September, they specified that it must have artificial turf. DeLaSalle has sided with the Park Board and hopes to resolve the matter with the city by this winter.

On top of the land issues, the school has to deal with several lawsuits against the project, including one from Nicollet Island residents. Under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, the developer has to show that there aren’t any feasible alternatives to building a field on historical land should their work cause destruction, said Lisa Hondros, one of the residents involved in the suit.

"There are lots of possibilities," she said, naming Parade Stadium in Lowry Hill where the school’s baseball team currently plays, as an option. "The problem is that they have never looked at anything [else] seriously."

Under direction from the Park Board, DeLaSalle is posting a construction bond while the lawsuits continue.

Commissioners rate priorities

During study sessions on Oct. 3 and 17, Park Board commissioners participated in an anonymous rating system to help MPRB staff prioritize items for the 2008 budget. As questions popped up on an overhead screen, the commissioners used electronic clickers to give their answers on a scale of one to five, often ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

The first half of the session dealt primarily with financial issues, such as fee implementation and where to move funding. During the second half, the board rated aspects of MPRB programs and services, with three commissioners missing. The following are examples of some of the results:

• Seven of nine commissioners were either lukewarm or supported increasing property taxes.

• Eight of nine commissions wanted to provide outdoor concerts that are fee-based and generate a profit to the board.

• All but one commissioner thought the Park Board should consider becoming an independent agency.

• All nine commissioners believed that the MPRB should get their LGA directly rather than getting a percentage from the city.

• All of the six commissioners who were present put medium to high priority on adapting the open hours of recreation centers to suit the needs of the community.

• Four of six commissioners gave closing recreation centers a low priority rating.

• Five commissioners felt that the Park Board should be a sustainable organization; one person voted neutral.

• Four of six commissioners want to reduce the number of ice-skating rinks in the city by six.

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.