Parks Notebook

Superintendent’s budget recommendations approved

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) Administration and Finance Committee has approved Superintendent Jon Gurban’s 2008 budget recommendations amid public outcry over increased fees and ice skating rink closures.

According to MPRB documents, the board is expected to take in $40.9 million in property taxes allocated by the city — a 4.4 percent increase over last year; $9.7 million in local government aid — 1.9 percent less than 2007; and $4.6 million in fees, fines and other revenues — 10.4 percent more than last year.

The overall budgetary increase adds up to 3.7 percent, which, according to MPRB officials, could be even less when factoring in higher health insurance costs.

From the General Fund, $40.6 million will cover MPRB wages and fringe costs and $14.6 million will go to operating costs.

To develop the budget, the Park Board took public input during the Comprehensive Plan review session and held interactive strategy meetings with commissioners to determine their priorities. The feedback resulted in 10 strategies, such as promoting corporate sponsorship, developing fees based on the ability to pay and producing events as a means to acquire maximum financial benefit.

The proposed fee increases took center stage during the committee’s Dec. 5 meeting. Representatives from organizations sponsoring events such as the Loring Park Pride Festival, AIDS Walk, March of Dimes Walk, Multiple Sclerosis Walk, and Walk for Animals expressed surprise and outrage that their park usage fees had gone up 50–400 percent. Many of the organizations had already set their 2008 budgets, and reallocating money back into permit fees would mean taking funds away from programs and services. The Pride Festival would receive the largest fee increase — from $10,487 to $58,000 for usage of Loring Park.

General Manager Don Sigglekow said that the Park Board has been undervaluing its parks’ revenue potentials, and cities like Chicago and New York charge much more for permits.

Instead of approving the new fees, the commissioners decided to direct staff to negotiate with nonprofit organizations that hold major annual events and figure out a long-term implementation plan for the fee increases.

Residents may also notice greater fees in everyday park activities. For example, sailboat buoy rentals will rise from $300 to $400; canoe rack rentals will jump from $100 to $150; and off-leash dog park permits will grow from $25 to $35.

Ice skating rink closures were another topic of contention during the meeting. The budget recommends closing rinks at Brackett, Waite, Shingle Creek, Harrison, Powderhorn and Loring parks due to high operating costs and low
attendance.

Commissioner-at-large Annie Young was upset that staff hadn’t decided to close one rink in each district and suggested that Southwest give up a rink.

“What’s going on between the rich and the poor?” she yelled. “Bob Fine [commissioner for much of Southwest], you start closing some of your damn rinks!”

General Manager Michael Schmidt said that staff didn’t use commissioner districts as a criterion for deciding which rinks would close.

Most of the resident feedback regarding rink closures focused on Powerhorn Park, which the MPRB reported has decreased attendance. The board decided to amend the budget to remove Powderhorn from the list of rinks to close and come up with an alternative for 2009.

Weather also plays a role in the Park Board’s ability to keep rinks open. According to MPRB officials, if a rink isn’t up and running due to weather by Jan. 7, it will remain closed for the whole season.

Many commissioners expressed sympathy toward residents who were upset over the tight budget. President Jon Olson, whose district includes North Minneapolis, said the board would have more money if it didn’t have to pay a Data Practices Officer to retrieve documents that members of the public have requested through the Data Privacy Act. He chalked up the need to “four or five individuals who have no lives” — likely referring to members of Park Watch, a MRPB watchdog group.

Board passes communication plan with the city
At the Dec. 5 meeting, the Park Board adopted a resolution listing steps the city and its independent boards can take to improve their relationships. Under the resolution, the groups would formalize their information-sharing process by exchanging briefings about major initiatives twice a year; forming a nonvoting Coordinating Committee composed of two members from each independent board, the mayor, City Council president, and chair of the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee to meet twice a year; hold regular social gatherings among the elected officials; instruct their respective employees to work together on overlapping projects; and coordinate their work at the state Legislature.

President Jon Olson was skeptical about how much the resolution would improve the Park Board’s relationship with the city.

“I haven’t found a lot of openness with the city and the mayor on trying to solve problems,” he said. “I really don’t know how this is going to make anything better.”

Commissioner Young countered that the Park Board should at least make an effort to work with the city, comparing their situation to finding peace in the Middle East.

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

Parks notebook

Court of Appeals rules in favor of DeLaSalle

On Nov. 20, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled to uphold the City Council’s decision to overturn the Heritage Preservation Commission’s ruling that the proposed DeLaSalle stadium doesn’t meet historic preservation requirements.

Friends of the Riverfront, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota argued that, under state law, DeLaSalle needed to look for a prudent and feasible alternative to building the playing field on the space adjacent to the school, which was also regional parkland. DeLaSalle and the city argued that, under the developer’s definition, building the stadium next to the school is an essential part of the project and therefore, they didn’t need to address alternatives. The court ruled in favor of the city and the school.

"The developer’s interests trump the public’s interests. That’s what the ruling basically says," said Chris Steller of Friends of the Riverfront. "We think that this was not a good decision. These judges took the state law and they gutted it."

Another lawsuit filed in the district court regarding the same matter has moved to the state Court of Appeals with a ruling pending. A third lawsuit filed by the Friends of the Riverfront asks the court to overturn the Metropolitan Council’s decision to remove the designation of regional parkland from the field. Steller said the 9.2 acres of river frontage north of Plymouth Avenue that would replace the regional parkland is not of equal value.

 
New Year’s fireworks cancelled

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board and Riverfront Arts and Events Committee has decided to cancel the 2007 New Year’s Eve fireworks show over the Mississippi riverfront due to lack of interest. Attendance has dwindled in previous years, so the groups plan to focus more on the Fourth of July riverfront show.

Winter fun at the parks

Some of us don’t like to admit it, but winter is fast approaching. With the season change, the Park Board has announced several new events and recreation opportunities taking place at parks in Southwest:

• Bundle up for free horse-drawn carriage rides, a bonfire, tree lighting, refreshments and music on Dec. 13 from 6–8 p.m. at Loring Park Community Arts Center, 1382 Willow St. Park Board, Dunn Bros, Friends of Loring Park and Citizens for Loring Park Community are co-sponsoring the event.

•  From Dec. 15–Jan.12 from 1–3 p.m., hikers are invited to snowshoe through Theodore Wirth Park for $10. Participants should meet at Quaking Bog parking lot on Theodore Wirth Parkway in Bryn Mawr.

• Additional snowshoeing will take place along Kenilworth Trail in between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake on Dec. 29 from 10–12 p.m. for $10. Meet where the Midtown Greenway and Kenilworth Trail connect behind Whole Foods Market and prepare to march onto Cedar Lake if the ice permits.

• For those who like to plan even further ahead, on Jan. 2, the MPRB will begin taking reservations for weddings, picnic shelters and the Showmobile, their large, portable stage. According to Park Board documents, permits and reservations are required for indoor and outdoor weddings and are issued on a first-paid, first-served basis.

Picnic shelters are available from Apr. 15–Oct. 15 for half or full days and require permits that are granted on a first-come, first-served basis.

The public can begin to apply for sailboat buoys and canoe rack space on Feb. 1. Buoys will be issued through a public drawing in April.

• Get your kite ready because the 2008 Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival is scheduled for Jan. 12 near the bandshell, 4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy. The free event includes kite flying, demonstrations, children’s ice fishing expo and medallion hunt, ice-skating, and marshmallow roasting. Call 370-4948 for more information.

 
A tight budget

The Park Board is anticipating a tight budget for 2008 with less local government aid and tax levy income and higher health insurance costs than expected. According to Superintendent Jon Gurban, they’re looking to increase revenue by $300,000–$400,000 and reduce expenditure by $1 million–$1.5 million in the coming year.

"As we’re not getting new financial resources, it probably means a reallocation of resources," he said, adding that they’re discussing specifics on a staff basis.

MPRB staff has already announced that they’re planning to close six outdoor ice skating rinks, though Gurban couldn’t specify which rinks.

At the Nov. 7 Park Board meeting, an instructor from Harrison Park in North pleaded with commissioners to keep the park’s rink open. In a later phone call, Gurban said the Harrison skaters would be able to use North Commons’ rink instead. "We will not be jeopardizing any child’s opportunity to skate," he said.

Park Board staff members may also be affected by the tight budget. Though General Manager Don Siggelkow had mentioned potential layoffs, Gurban said staff has decided not to downsize.

Positions may need to become more flexible and duties may be consolidated, he explained. Some jobs could also become more seasonal.