Park Board: We want 100 percent independence

The Park Board wants voters in November to decide whether they should become their own governmental unit, entirely separate from the city.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation wants complete independence.

For what’s believed to be the first time in their 126-year-history, the board’s commissioners are seeking an amendment to the city’s charter that would end their reliance on the Board of Estimate and Taxation. They’re expected to begin collecting signatures for a petition over the Fourth of July weekend.

Although they are commonly referred to as an independent board, the Park Board’s finances are actually not entirely under their control. Their money technically flows through the city, and their annual property tax levy is set by the Board of Estimate and Taxation, of which half the members are city representatives.

The Park Board’s proposed change would make them their own governmental unit, meaning they would no longer have to work through the taxation board and instead head to the state. That’s already how most municipalities in Minnesota work, including cities such as St. Paul and the Three Rivers Park District.

Biggest of all, if the City Council ever gains control of the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s powers, the parks’ finances wouldn’t rest on the city’s decisions.

“We have no choice given what’s happened,” Vice President Mary Merrill Anderson said.

Just hours before the Park Board’s motion, the city’s Charter Commission ensured that voters this fall will decide whether the taxation board should give its powers to the City Council.

The Board of Estimate and Taxation is currently made up of six members — the mayor, two City Council members, one Park Board commissioner and two separately elected people. The amendment, developed by Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), would replace those six members with the City Council.

The Park Board argues that by putting the taxation board’s powers in the council’s hands, the Park Board would lose a big part of their independence. No longer would they have a seat at the tax levy-setting table. Commissioners fear that the city could starve their finances to a point that they would be left with no choice but to be folded into the city.

For their full-independence amendment initiative, the Park Board isn’t going the Charter Commission route. Instead, they’re going to try to petition it onto the Nov. 3 ballot. They’re aiming to collect about 15,000 signatures by Aug. 11.

Several commissioners already have said they would commit to hours of volunteer time.

“A lot of people don’t like politics,” Commissioner Walt Dziedzic said. “But if this board doesn’t get political —

“We’re talking about fighting something that’s trying to kill us,” he said.

Mayor R.T. Rybak on July 8 vetoed the resolution, a move the Park Board is expected to overturn.

Look for more on this story in the July 13 Southwest Journal.

Reporter Elizabeth Sias contributed to this report.