Parks update: Park Board holds line on property taxes

Park Board holds line on property taxes

After eight straight years of raising property taxes, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Aug. 3 voted to keep the 2012 property tax levy at the 2011 level.

The Park Board will take its 0 percent request to the Minneapolis Board of Estimation and Taxation. If approved, the Park Board will be set to collect $46.3 million in property taxes in 2012, the same as 2011.

New Parks Superintendent Jayne Miller made the 0 percent recommendation, but warned that the Park Board would need to make even more spending cuts before 2013 to continue to hold the line on property taxes. The Park Board has eliminated 52 full-time employees since 2009, or about 10 percent of its workforce.

“We continue to need to operate more efficiently — looking at more broadly defined job descriptions (and) creating a workforce that’s much more flexible,” she said.

Over the past eight years, the Park Board has, on average, raised the tax levy by 4.5 percent each year. The last time it didn’t raise taxes was in 2003, when it lowered its levy by 4.9 percent.

While the Park Board’s tax levy has increased from $33.1 million in 2003 to $47.2 million in 2011, spending hasn’t jumped nearly as much. Spending in 2003 totaled $49.7 million. In 2011, spending totaled $55.3 million.

The Park Board’s decision to hold its levy does not mean it has made all its necessary budget decisions. How the Park Board spends its money will be decided between now and December, when the board is set to vote on a final budget.

City Employees Union #363, which represents park laborers, has been keeping a close eye on budget decisions.

Union Business Manager Audie Gillespie said he’s concerned that the Park Board continues to buy more land and facilities while employing fewer and fewer workers to maintain them.

“In this time when there’s so much economic pressure and budgets are so tight, we’re worried about retaining enough people to take care of the parks,” he said.

Gillespie said the union agreed to a zero percent wage increase over the next two years in hopes of keeping jobs.

Gillespie is also concerned that the Park Board is considering turning parks into public-private models, as might become the case with Loring Park, where staff has suggested a partnership with the private community that could relieve park workers of their duties in Loring.  

“Right now, if people have complaints or compliments, they can call directly their park commissioner,” Gillespie said. “If that becomes run by a whole different organization, it may not have the same responsiveness.”

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Public meeting scheduled for Walker Library park area

Hennepin County and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are holding a public meeting to discuss the design of The Mall — the parkland to the north of where a new Walker Library will be reconstructed.

The meeting will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at the existing Walker Library, 2800 Hennepin Ave. S.

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Reminder: Plane crash memorial dedication will be held Aug. 27

In the last issue of the Southwest Journal, we wrote about resident Mark Kaplan’s dedication of a memorial for victims of a 1950 plane crash on Minnehaha Parkway.

We forgot to tell you the date. The dedication will be held at Lynnhurst Park on Aug. 27, beginning at 2 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.