Park Board’s higher levy request rejected

Linden Hills Park

Minneapolis has set its maximum property tax levy for 2020 without the additional $1.6 million Park Board officials were seeking to help boost youth programming and services.

On Sept. 25, the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) set the city’s maximum property tax levy at $361.7 million, of which $69.5 million is allocated to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Park commissioners voted to approve a maximum property tax levy request of $71 million, an 8% increase from 2019. Park Board President Brad Bourn, who sits on the BET, attempted to adjust the maximum levy request to reach the figure sought by the MPRB, but the amendment failed.

Mayor Jacob Frey, who vetoed the Park Board’s maximum levy request on Sept. 10 and also sits on the BET, asked board members to vote against the amendment. He said his recommended budget will increase MPRB funding on top of the additional money from the 20-year Neighborhood Park Plan, which is allocating an additional $11 million each year through 2036 to address capital improvements in city parks.

“In this case, we’ve given significant money,” Frey said.

The mayor’s recommended budget calls for a 5.73% increase for the MPRB levy, which officials say will allow the park system to maintain current service levels.

MPRB Superintendent Al Bangoura has pushed for more funding to be directed toward youth programming and employment opportunities for young people in the park system. Parks officials say current youth activities and jobs programs like Teen Teamworks lag behind funding levels of the early 2000s. Bourn said he is concerned that funding levels are lower for current city youth, who are more diverse than previous generations.

“The youth in the city of Minneapolis are in crisis right now,” Bourn said.

Frey said he agrees that the city requires more investment in youth programming and well-being but prefers a multi-agency approach. Allocating more dollars to the Park Board this year is not in the best interest of the city and its taxpayers, he said.

Other members of the BET said there are other ways to boost funding for city youth without giving the MPRB a larger levy allocation.

“I think we have to look outside the box,” said Council Member Abdi Warsame, Ward 6, who sits on the BET.

He said he doesn’t think the MPRB plan for boosting youth programming goes far enough and said they should look to the state, county and local foundations to address the gap.

Only Council President Lisa Bender (Ward 10) backed Bourn’s amendment, citing high demand for youth employment through the MPRB and lagging programming levels.

The MPRB receives about 7% of city property tax dollars, which funds about 75% of the Park Board budget.

The maximum property tax levy is not the final amount sought from taxpayers but does give the city and the MPRB a ceiling for setting their respective budgets.

Now Park Board commissioners and Bangoura will need to get more creative in their budgeting process if they want to fund additional youth services in 2020. MPRB staff will present commissioners with alternative ways to reach their youth programming goals within the maximum levy on Oct. 16, according to Bourn.

“The Minneapolis Park Board will have to make some very difficult decisions,” he said.