Proposed parks budget adjusts to pandemic constraints

Arden Park
Arden Park

A proposed Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) budget would bring department realignment and maintain in-place hiring freezes while investing more in youth services as the system reels from financial hits imposed by the pandemic.

“It has been a very difficult year,” Superintendent Al Bangoura said. “The 2021 budgeting process has certainly been the most challenging of my career.”

In light of that, his budget proposal is focusing on protecting and preserving park assets while focusing investments on youth programming.

The $128.7 million proposed budget would include $27.8 million in capital improvement funds, including $10.5 million from the 20-year Neighborhood Parks Plan. The recommended budget would come with a 1.18% property tax levy hike that would not result in increased taxes for a $271,000 median-value home in the city.

Park Board financial director Juli Wiseman said the system faced a $6.1 million deficit heading into 2021 and had to make adjustments to maintain the additional $2 million identified by commissioners in 2019 as necessary to boost youth programming.

Many vacant MPRB positions will not be filled, and the overtime budget for staff would be reduced. Several part-time and seasonal work hours would also be cut in the 2021 budget. One park police officer position would be cut in the proposed budget. The MPRB currently has a hiring freeze in place.

While the forestry preservation coordinator position has been made permanent, Bangoura’s budget calls for eliminating the forestry outreach coordinator position, a role many environmental advocates say is critical. Next year is the final year of the reforestation levy, which has aimed to plant additional trees to account for losses due to emerald ash borer and the tornado that hit the city in 2011.

“We have made every reduction possible in non-labor costs,” Wiseman said.

The MPRB is likely to have a smaller staff and will consolidate some departments. Revenue-generating activities like golf, ice arenas, aquatics and athletics will be merged together under Bangoura’s budget. The recreation center department will merge with youth services, and Teen Teamworks, a youth employment program, will be integrated into environmental management. Bangoura is proposing a new community support services department that will include staff from community outreach and park police to address safety issues in city parks. The superintendent would also like to form a data analytics and response team that will work within the planning department and provide services across the system.

“I truly believe these organizational changes will allow the organization to deliver the
best programs and services in the country,” Bangoura said.

A public comment hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 18. Commissioners will vote on the budget in committee on Dec. 2 before a final hearing and vote scheduled at city hall on Dec. 9.