Parks Update: Commissioners question 2014 fee increases by city

Commissioners complain about fee increases from city

Next year the city of Minneapolis is giving $200,000 to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) in a one-time transfer to be used for tree preservation and reforestation, but the city is also raising a nebulous “general fund overhead fee” it charges the MPRB by $138,203.

“[The general fund overhead fee] pays for the treasury function, the purchasing function, and the accounting system that we use, but we do not get an itemized listing and an itemized bill on what makes up the entire fee, and that has always been something that has been questioned,” said Juli Wiseman, Director of Finance for the MPRB.

The City Charter requires the MPRB to use the city for those functions, even though Commissioner Erwin claims if those services were outsourced it could save the MPRB hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Together the city’s increases in its fees, just to us, add up to essentially a half of a percent levy increase on us,” said Commissioner Erwin. “We’re stuck having to use [the city] even though they’re triple the cost of [outsourcing.]”

The additional $138,203 represents a 16.5 percent increase from 2013 general overhead fee. Also, the benefit administration fee the city charges was raised $3,422, making for a total increase of $141,625 in fees the MPRB must pay the city next year.

The $200,000 transfer for trees has been given to the MPRB by the city in the past, although it typically does not happen every year. Also, the numbers the commissioners referenced were from the mayor’s budget, not the final budget, which still has yet to be finalized.

Should a North China Theme Garden be built at Washburn Fair Oaks?

After some debate the board voted 6-2 (with Commissioner Young abstaining) to take a small step toward building a North China Theme Garden in Washburn Fair Oaks Park in Whittier neighborhood.

The debate centered on whether or not Whittier residents even want the garden built in their park. Commissioner Tabb, whose district includes Whittier, voted against the resolution, calling the garden “oddly-designed and kind of stuck in the corner [of the park.]”

At the end of the third public meeting held in the last year to discuss the garden, residents were asked to vote on whether or not they wanted it to be part of the Washburn Fair Oaks Master Plan. More people voted “no” than “yes.”

“If the community continues to say ‘this isn’t a good fit,’ I’m going to be inclined to vote against this project,” said Commissioner Young.

So far $28,000 has been spent on consultant fees for the project. The resolution that passed directed staff to prepare a memorandum of understanding with the US-China Peoples Friendship Association’s Minnesota Chapter so that they could begin raising funds for the garden.

The North China theme is contingent on donations and fundraising. Without the North China theme, planned baseline improvements – for things like new benches, lighting, tree removal and new plantings – is estimated to cost $691,000. With the North China element – which includes amenities like an open-air pavilion, a land bridge, flowering trees and ornamental stone – that figure climbs to $1.14 million.

Commissioner Fine spoke in favor of the project.

“I don’t believe there’s an outcry in the neighborhood over this…if we don’t build this people will wonder ‘why didn’t that go in Minneapolis?’ Instead it’ll go in the Arboretum or some other place.”

 Urban Agriculture Activity Plan complicated, controversial at first glance

A number of questions were raised by the board after the initial framework of the upcoming Urban Agriculture Activity Plan was presented on September 11.

 Three overarching goals and 13 strategies to reach those goals were laid out in a large, detailed presentation by Ginger Cannon of the MPRB planning division. Most commissioners who spoke were cautiously optimistic about the plan, but it was clear that the its massive scope is going to lead to a myriad of disagreements and administrative headaches.

“I just can’t even begin to tell you all of the problems that I envision with all of this, and maybe they’ve all been addressed and they’re all manageable, but I remain unconvinced at this point” said Commissioner Kummer.

Questions surrounding policies that would allow for more community gardens, more edible plants in parks, community ovens, farmer’s markets and dozens of other issues will need to be resolved before anything final is implemented. With so much to decide, some commissioners spoke in favor of starting small instead of trying to figure everything out all at once.

“I’m thrilled to see [the Urban Agriculture plan], my big concern is implementation, so I would ask that staff pick off some things that they think are doable, and take action on them this fall,” said Commissioner Erwin.

Staff from the Parks Planning Department is expected to present a final proposal to the board later this fall before releasing it for a 45-day public review.

 Nice Ride “Hidden Wonders” campaign approved for Minneapolis parks

The board voted to enter a three-year sponsorship agreement with Nice Ride Minnesota to develop a “Hidden Wonders” marketing program that would encourage park users to seek out different places, events or activities located in Minneapolis parks.

The campaign will include posters at Nice Ride kiosks and a smartphone app. No money will be exchanged between the two parties.

Instead, the Park Board will allow Nice Ride to sell sponsorships to help fund the Hidden Wonders campaign. Next year’s Hidden Wonders sponsor will be Allina Health.

According to documents submitted at the Park Board meeting, Nice Ride pays for 64 percent of its operating  costs through sales revenue, with the remainder covered by corporate sponsorships like the one from Allina Health.

Commissioner Wielinski raised concerns over whether or not the Park Board had veto power over any potentially controversial sponsorships, but Nice Ride Minnesota Executive Director Bill Dossett assured her that any future sponsorships would be subject to board approval.

 Concept plan for new Waite Park playground approved

The board unanimously approved a concept plan for the new $200,000 Waite Park playground.

The plan, proposed by Minnesota Wisconsin Playground and recommended by a Waite Park citizens advisory committee, shows six swings, three slides, a miniature climbing wall and an 18-foot-tall climbing net.

During the design process a variety of play equipment was given a test run by kids in a Rec Plus program at Waite Park, and their preferences weighed into the final decision.

 Stump removal from the June storms has begun

On September 9 work crews began removing 800 stumps leftover from trees felled during the massive June storms .

Crews started in north and northeast Minneapolis because they wanted to work out any kinks in the process before proceeding to the harder-hit neighborhoods of south and southwest Minneapolis.

 Parks website redesign coming soon

Park staff has selected Mediatrope, an Oakland, CA-based web design company, to redesign the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation website.

Minneapolisparks.org was launched in 2001 with about 500 pages. Since then, it has grown to more than 2,000 pages and 20,000 files, and averages about two million visits annually.

The redesign will make the parks website easier to navigate with more efficient search capabilities and a much more mobile-friendly layout. Last month 36 percent of visits to minneapolisparks.com came from tablets or smartphones.

Mediatrope was chosen over 11 other companies that submitted proposals and will be paid $133,450. The redesign is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2014.

 Invasive species update

The Park Board vastly increased its aquatic invasive species inspections on Lake Calhoun, Harriet and Nokomis in 2013.

Zebra mussels were found in Lake Hiawatha on August 28, but that was expected because of its connection to Minnehaha Creek, which was already infested.

Park staff had conducted 3,653 inspections through August 31 of this year, up from slightly more than 1,000 last year.

This year inspection hours were increased to mirror boat launch hours, which are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.