Compromise funding plan outlined for parks, streets

Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Council leaders have agreed to a new $800 million long-term funding plan for neighborhood parks and the city’s streets.

The 20-year plan would dedicate $33 million in new funding each year for both needs, which would be paid for through a mix of revenue sources — including increases in the property tax levy, issuing debt and cash sources, according to a presentation by the city’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Ruff on Monday to the Council’s Ways & Means Committee.

The Council’s Committee of the Whole will have another public hearing on the plan Wednesday and is expected to vote on the proposal Friday.

Beginning in 2017, $22 million in new money would be available for street projects and $11 million for parks capital and operating expenses. The city’s tax levy would increase 4.8 percent in 2017 and the future impact on the levy would be a roughly 0.6 percent increase each year.

Mayor Betsy Hodges said she’s “gratified” that the plan addresses the funding needs for both streets and the parks.

“It commits us to addressing the well-known, critical infrastructure and operating gaps for both our streets and our neighborhood park system. It clarifies the City’s commitment to investing in our streets and neighborhood parks infrastructure equitably,” she said. “It transparently identifies the sources to meet the need now and over time, even as I have reservations about some of them. And it clearly acknowledges the tough choices that we have to make now, and that mayors and Councils will have to make in the future, in order to make this commitment real in the long term.”

The Park Board has identified a $15 million annual funding gap to address capital needs for neighborhood parks and the city’s streets face a $30 million annual funding gap to keep pace with repairs and reconstruction projects.

City Council Member John Quincy (Ward 11), chair of the Ways & Means Committee, agreed with the mayor that it was important to link the two infrastructure needs in the proposal.

“And the proposal clearly identifies the sources of the funding, which includes the use of cash reserves in the near term, and issuance of bonds and gradual small increases in the overall property tax levy as a reliable and responsible way of financing the program,” he wrote an email to constituents. “The annual increases average less than three-quarters of 1 percent of the property-tax levy over the life of the 20 year program, with new levels of oversight, cooperation and flexibility.”