Parks update // 2011 budget

Park Board approves 2011 budget

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Dec. 1 approved its 2011 budget, which will go to the City Council Dec. 13 for a public hearing and final approval.

The budget, just shy of $60 million, includes cuts to many departments and a reduction in personnel expenses following the Park Board’s first-ever layoffs last fall. It also plans for $7.6 million in local government aid (LGA), which is $2.7 million short of what the state certified. LGA has been reduced mid-year during the past three years and the future of state allocations is increasingly unclear.

Park Board President John Erwin said the budget is not perfect and doesn’t include everything commissioners want, but he thought as a whole it reflected the majority input of the board. He said the board would review the budget again when the LGA numbers are in.

Several commissioners expressed concerns about this year’s proposed property tax increase and whether the board was being as frugal as possible in light of the jump, which would range from 10 percent to 20 percent for many residents.

Staff pointed out that the Park Board’s proposed 4.9 percent levy increase would account for a small portion of the hike. The board would receive 7 cents of every dollar paid by Minneapolis residents, compared to 36 cents for the city, 25 cents for schools, 28 cents for the county and 4 cents for other agencies, staff said. On a $229,000 home with a bill of $3,733, for example, $269 would be paid to the Park Board.

At-Large Commissioner Bob Fine said it’s not the actual number that matters, but the perception it creates. Despite the tight budget and bleak economic outlook, the board is still planning several new initiatives next year. He was uneasy about how those additions would look given the tax burden residents might have to deal with.

“All of this sort of doesn’t fit together real well, that’s the problem,” said Fine, who was the only commissioner to vote against the budget.

Commissioner Jon Olson (District 2) abstained from the vote after failing to gain a budget allocation for two additional park police officers. He was not alone in his push for more police, but the board ultimately seemed to agree that the budget outlook made long-term hiring decisions difficult.

“I hesitate to hire people that we might be strapped to let go at some point,” Erwin said.

A point of contention between Erwin and Olson was whether the existing police force would be able to cover a new late-night program for teens Erwin proposed for next year. Park Police Chief Linda Bergstrom said it would be tight, but she thought the existing officers would be able to get it done.  

The board plans to shift $155,000 of its recreation budget to operate the new late-night program, which will keep certain recreation centers open on some evenings for a variety of teen-oriented activities. A few other allocations for new initiatives include:

$32,000 for a new Southwest dog park and the same amount to revamp a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. at King Park;

$150,000 for the planting of 1,500 additional trees;

$50,000 for the planting of ornamental shrubs and hardy perennials to reduce costs related to mowing;

$50,000 more for lifeguards, so hours can be increased at park beaches.

A public hearing to discuss the city’s budget and tax levy, including the Park Board’s share of those issues, is set for Dec. 13 at 6:05 p.m. in room 317 of City Hall, 350 South 5th Street. The City Council will vote on the budget and tax levy after the hearing.