Park supt. wants $14 million a year under referendum

Minneapolis Park Superintendent Jayne Miller wants to ask taxpayers for at least $14 million per year over a decade or two in order to maintain the system’s 157 neighborhood parks.

Miller expects the Park Board to give her direction by the end of the year in closing its growing $140 million gap in funding for the city’s aging park infrastructure, which could mean asking for hundreds of millions of dollars over several years. While commissioners have considered other options in meeting the system’s funding needs, they said the next step is most likely a referendum on the ballot in the next couple years.

The superintendent told commissioners Nov. 4 that Minneapolis park assets face a $12.3 million gap per year in capital and operating funds in today’s dollars, so $14 million per year under a referendum would be the minimum to ask taxpayers for.

“Even getting $14 million a year is not going to get us on track where we need to be. It’s going to take us probably a decade to get into reasonable shape because we are so far behind,” she said. “We already knew 15 years ago that we were behind. You add another 15 year layer of being behind on taking care of our assets, it’s going to take us a long time just to get where we should be.”

Miller is also interested in an inflationary factor over the funding’s life cycle.

The board launched its Closing the Gap initiative over the past several months to meet with the public on overdue investments to neighborhood parks. Thanks to a study from Morris Leatherman Co. the board already knows that a majority of Minneapolis residents polled would support a property tax increase to maintain today’s neighborhood park assets.

Scott Vreeland, the board’s vice president, said a referendum is the most democratic way of finding out what Minneapolitans want to do to solve the funding gap.

“Without public funding of our park infrastructure — our neighborhood parks —  we can’t maintain them. I don’t want to close parks,” Vreeland said at the board’s Nov. 4 meeting. “Folks really appreciate what’s happening in their parks. Folks are willing to pay for parks in Minneapolis. The issue will be what is the sticker shock.”

President Liz Wielinksi has been the board’s chief lobbyist to the city on the topic. She said while the life expectancy of a referendum is under investigation, the funding would come over least a decade, but most likely between 15 and 20 years. In perpetuity is also a possibility.

In order to get on the ballot in 2016 or 2017, the City Council or the Charter Commission will have to agree to put it on. The board could also seek a petition with several thousand signatures from registered voters to make it on the ballot.