Hodges, Quincy offer another park funding proposal

City and park leaders are crafting their own proposals to bolster investments into the city’s aging neighborhood parks, such as Windom Northeast Park. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Minneapolis park commissioners now have three proposals before them in addressing a growing backlog of maintenance investments into the city’s neighborhood parks.

In addition to a fall referendum and a developing 20-year investment plan, Mayor Betsy Hodges recently unveiled a plan that would raise two-thirds of the Park Board’s roughly $15 million annual funding shortfall for 10 years, in addition to bolstering the city’s investment into street repairs. Leaders from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board criticized the plan in a letter saying the mayor’s plan is too risky and does not go far enough to guarantee money to reverse more than a decade of unmet neighborhood park needs.

The plan from Hodges and Council Member John Quincy (Ward 11) would raise a total of $300 million, translating to $10 million for the Park Board and $20 million for street repairs annually over the next decade. It’s based on a roughly 1.4 percent increase to the city’s property tax levy each year over the next 10 years on top of the city’s forecasted average of 3.5 percent.

The plan, which could be renewed, also addresses two-thirds of an annual $30 million need to maintain the city’s street infrastructure, as the city’s Public Works department told council members earlier this year.

“Earlier generations of City leaders built this great city on a vision that included great parks and safe streets,” Hodges said in a statement. “It is our duty to not allow their investments to crumble. We must reinvest in the Minneapolis we love.”

Quincy said in a statement that the plan’s 10-year lifespan would give the Park Board and City of Minneapolis time to prove the need for the investment.

“Fixing both park and street systems’ capital gap is a critical priority, and I’m happy to offer a solution,” he said. “In order to make sure we are making these commitments with our eyes wide open I expect we will have a full, transparent discussion about the long-term impacts during the budget process.”

The plan comes at a time the Park Board is considering a referendum this November to raise the additional funds for repairing, operating and investing in its neighborhood park infrastructure.

Over the past two years, park officials have held public meetings with Minneapolis residents about aging neighborhood assets like ball fields and basketball courts. Among the most vulnerable parts in the system of 157 neighborhood parks are recreation centers and wading pools, which must meet certain standards to stay open, park officials said.

In January, park commissioners directed Superintendent Jayne Miller to begin drafting ballot language for a referendum. While the semi-autonomous Park Board cannot get on the ballot by itself, Miller has been in talks with council members, the Charter Commission, state lawmakers and a citizen advocacy group to move the referendum proposal forward. Hodges vetoed a resolution regarding the referendum and the Park Board overrode her decision in February.

The referendum would raise roughly $300 million over 20 years, or about $15 million per year, based on an increase to the city’s taxy levy that Miller said would translate to an additional $66 for taxpayers with a home price of $190,000.

Then in mid-March, Council President Barb Johnson (Ward 4) and Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) revealed their own plan, known as the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan, that would guarantee, by city ordinance, about $11 million in additional funding for the Park Board from various city resources.

The proposed agreement, which would need both City Council and Park Board approval, would devote $8 million to the board, in addition to maintaining about $2.5 million the board historically has received from the city. The city would also recommend that the Board of Estimate and Taxation increase the board’s annual tax levy by $3 million for the life of the ordinances, in addition to annual increments. The increase, based on a 1 percent increase of the city’s 2016 tax levies, is intended for the board’s operating costs.

Authors Johnson and Goodman said the plan could have several funding sources, including a combination of levy, cash or bond proceeds.

The Johnson-Goodman proposal would begin sooner than the other plans before the board with an initial $1.5 million in start-up money for parks by the end of 2016. It would then run for 20 years through 2036 with review from the two parties every five years. The agreement would preclude the referendum effort.

Park commissioners unanimously voted to begin drafting their part of the agreement, but Hodges vetoed the resolution. The board is expected to override her decision during its April 6 meeting, after this issue went to press.

The mayor’s proposal has drawn criticism from President Liz Wielinski and Miller for its short lifespan — one decade versus two — and lack of guarantees, which they say make it unable to address a 15-year backlog of neighborhood park needs.

“After 10 years only one half of the city will be served; we worry that as many as 40 of our neighborhoods would be left behind. We do not believe that is a fair approach,” they wrote. “The Park Board needs to ensure that the funding needed to provide quality neighborhood parks will not be in jeopardy in the future.”
They also took issue with the fact that Hodges’ plan, which would go through next year’s budget process, would come too late for the board to move forward with a referendum.

Save Our Minneapolis Parks, the citizen group supporting the board’s funding efforts, voiced a similar concern, announcing that it supports the Johnson-Goodman plan and, if that were to fail, the referendum. The group, chaired by former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew, would then lead a petition that could put the referendum on the November ballot.

“After two years of study and months of deliberation, we must take action now to maintain our neighborhood parks for the tens of thousands of children who use them each year,” he said in a statement.

There will be a public hearing on the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan on April 13 during the City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting. Council members are expected to vote on it April 15.