Park commissioners approve 2017 budget

Next year the board launches a 20-year plan to reshape the city’s neighborhood park system.

Bassett’s Creek Park is set to see nearly $100,000 in improvements next year thanks to a 20-year plan to repair the city’s neighborhood parks. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Next year has a lot in store for the city’s parks as the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board begins sowing the seeds of major investments into neighborhood parks.

Park commissioners voted Dec. 7 to approve a $77-million 2017 budget, which reflects the board’s largest property tax increase in at least a decade. A 10-percent levy increase includes a one-time base increase of $3 million, or 5.7 percent, for the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan, a plan put together with the City Council and Mayor Betsy Hodges to raise funds to counterbalance years of budget gaps in maintaining Minneapolis parks and roads.

The tax increase is more than twice as much as what the Park Board has typically seen in the past 10 years thanks to the base increase, which is intended to equate to approximately 1 percent of all city tax levies for 2016. Commissioners had requested an even higher 13.3-percent property tax levy increase to cover a potential $15 minimum wage, but the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which sets the maximum property tax levy, didn’t include funding for it.

The increase brings the Park Board’s tax levy to $59.7 million, up from this year’s $54.3 million. This includes $1.7 million for the Tree Preservation and Reforestation Levy, which will not see additional funds next year. For every dollar Minneapolis residents pay for property taxes in 2017, 8 cents will go to the Park Board.

“The 2017 budget fully integrates the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan into the MPRB budget and is the first MPRB annual budget to use a racial equity lens for budget decisions,” Superintendent Jayne Miller said in a statement. “The 2017 budget continues to reflect the MPRB’s commitment to strategic long-term planning by focusing on sustainable funding, supporting ongoing operations, addressing threats to the urban tree canopy, continuing refinement and implementation of operating efficiencies and targeted service delivery, and aligning employment and asset investments to meet changing demographic needs across the city.”

The City Council and Park Board passed concurrent ordinances related to the 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan in April and May, respectively. City officials estimate the plan will raise approximately $800 million over two decades, which will include $11 million for parks and $22 million for streets annually, plus scheduled inflationary increases. The plan addresses a projected annual funding gap of $15 million for capital needs in neighborhood parks and an estimated $30 million needed annually for street reconstruction.

To guide investments, commissioners took a data-driven approach and crafted an ordinance over the summer that created a racial and economic equity system. The criteria prioritize parks in areas of concentrated poverty around the city, especially neighborhoods in which there’s racially concentrated poverty. A neighborhood can also receive points for having a larger total population, more children and higher crime statistics.

Thanks to the neighborhood parks plan, the budget includes $1.6 million in playground and field investments in Bossen Field Park, $263,000 in playground improvements at Luxton Park and $725,000 to upgrade the new pool at Phillips Community Center, among other projects. Several million dollars will also go toward general repairs for recreation center roofs, lighting in neighborhood parks and keeping up air conditioning across the system. So far the Park Board has only released plans for the first five years of investments.

Miller’s budget also includes a new youth violence prevention position in the Park Police Department. The board will begin to buy and implement enough body cameras to cover all normally assigned patrol staff, or about 30 officers.

The budget supports efforts to reopen Meadowbrook Golf Club and reopen the back nine at Hiawatha Golf Club, which were closed after torrential rains in the spring 2014 devastated the courses. The budget includes a target date of Aug. 15, 2017 for a reopening event at Meadowbrook.

Miller also budgets for new park operations manager positions for each of the five service areas in the city’s park system. Two will be funded by the additional neighborhood park funds and the elimination of one vacant foreman position.

There are also funds for Greater & Greener 2017, an international urban parks conference from the City Parks Alliance, which the Park Board and the City of St. Paul will host next summer.