Park Board considers cuts, fees to expand youth services

Calhoun - Bde Maka Ska Sign Change
Minneapolis swapped out street signs on West Bde Maka Ska Parkway on Oct. 28, following the Park Board’s August decision to change the street names from Calhoun. To raise revenue in 2020, the Park Board is considering adding meter parking on the street. Submitted photo

To help pay for additional youth programming and environmental initiatives, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is considering raising fees and cutting services in other areas.

MPRB Superintendent Al Bangoura presented his proposed $126 million 2020 budget to commissioners on Sept. 16 when he laid out how the agency will shift money around to pay for additional youth services funding he unsuccessfully lobbied for from the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

Bangoura and Park Board commissioners had sought a $71 million maximum property tax levy, an 8% increase, from Mayor Jacob Frey and the Board of Estimate and Taxation to help pay for more youth employment opportunities and recreation activities. The BET voted to set the Park Board’s maximum levy at the mayor’s recommended 5.7% increase of $69.5 million.

“We’re committed to working hard to address that gap,” Bangoura said.

To boost youth funding, Bangoura is proposing the MPRB add 60 jobs for young people in 2020, develop two “ideation centers” to teach children digital literacy and expose them to technology they may not have at home and create four sites throughout the park system where kids can come for free afterschool programming.

“We have the staff, we have the buildings, we have the skill to do that work,” he said of youth programming. 

One of those ideation spaces would be at Whittier Park, according to budget documents. 

Along with youth programming, Bangoura’s proposed budget focuses on environmental protection, financial sustainability and community engagement.

The new budget includes an energy management analyst who will help track the carbon footprint of the MPRB and recommend actions to reduce pollution. Money for installing electric vehicle infrastructure, managing shoreline and developing an urban forest plan is also included in the recommended budget.

“Really what this is about is reducing fuel consumption,” Bangoura said. “It’s about minimizing pollution and emissions and improving operations in our system.”

The largest year-to-year increase in the proposed budget would be environmental stewardship, which would see a $2.5 million boost, followed by a $1.5 million increase for recreation and $1.36 million more for youth services. 

To pay for these initiatives, the MPRB would cut roles for design and engineering project managers and part-time staffing in the communications and community outreach departments. Savings would also come from service reductions, including cutting the Lyndale School wading pool.

They will plan to expand revenue by charging for parking in more surface lots and popular street destinations, including adding meters to West Bde Maka Ska Parkway and at the Calhoun Executive Center parking lot in West Calhoun; the goal is to raise an additional $1.7 million in parking revenue in 2020. Additional revenues will be sought by increasing rental rates at Wirth Pavilion and charging more for canoe storage around the Chain of Lakes. 

The MPRB is also looking at amenities where it is losing revenue, particularly golf. The five golf courses in the system have operated at an average net loss of $383,000 for the past decade. The courses are projected to lose $400,000 in 2020, even with the proposed elimination of the golf director role, according to Bangoura.

“This is something we need to really look at and pay attention to,” Bangoura said. 

Another losing asset has been the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, run by the MPRB and the Walker Art Center, which is projected to operate at a net loss of $66,000 next year. 

The budget lays out the next five years of the MPRB capital improvement plan. Southwest parks scheduled for 2020 improvements include Kenny, Lyndale Farmstead, Lynnhurst, Painter and Whittier. Theodore Wirth Regional Park is due for $970,000 worth of capital improvements, including $300,000 dedicated to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary. 

The commissioners will be debating and determining the final 2020 budget at their Nov. 6, Nov. 20 and Dec. 4 board meetings. The MPRB and city will hold their truth and taxation public hearing on Dec. 11.