An alternative plan to raise big bucks for neighborhood park repairs and operations inched closer to majority support in a formal unveiling Wednesday at the City Council.
Council Members Andrew Johnson and Jacob Frey joined Council President Barb Johnson and Lisa Goodman in favoring the park funding proposal the veteran duo crafted. Linea Palmisano said afterward she's on board and expects others on the council to join her. She prefers it to a referendum proposal forwarded earlier to the council by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
That would put the Johnson-Goodman plan close to a majority, with several council members largely silent during an extended committee discussion of the two plans attended by several dozen parks funding supporters. Even a council majority wouldn't be enough if Mayor Betsy Hodges follows up her pointed criticism on Tuesday of the proposal with a veto.
Those expressing reservations said that devoting an extra $11 million annually to addressing deteriorating buildings and fields in local parks needs to be discussed in competition with other city priorities. Some examples they cited include are street repaving, affordable housing, police and fire staffing, and addressing racial disparities.
The Park Board has asked the council to authorize a November referendum on levying for 20 years at least $15 million more annually for parks. The city attorney's office has said it doesn't think such a levy proposal is authorized by the city charter or state law, a stance disputed by Park Board legal advisors.
So the board also has asked the Charter Commission to forward the proposal through the council to a fall vote, something the city attorney's office hasn't finished reviewing for legality. The commission plans to hold public hearings on the proposal if the council and Park Board don't reach agreement in the next few weeks.
Interim Chief Financial Officer Sandra Christensen told the council that referendum approval would increase the city levy by an extra 5 percent starting in 2018. That could mean an 8.7 percent increase that year in the city's levy if it sticks with its underlying five-year levy plan.
That jump troubles people such as Palmisano, who represents the city's tax-sensitive southwest corner. It's also what motivated Johnson, who represents the northwest corner where property values are rising sharply.
She and Goodman crafted a 20-year plan that would raise the levy by 1 percent to give parks an added $3 million annually for local park operations, and provide an escalating $8 million annually extra to catch up on repairing and replacing wornout buildings and grounds in local parks.
The capital money would be raised from within the city budget, from sources such as expiring tax-increment districts, pension cost savings gained from terms of a previous pension merger, and state assumption of a portion of the debt payments for city library construction. But some on the council want some of that haul to go to priorities such as streets, for which public works officials recently asked $300 million to catch up.
Council Member Lisa Bender said she'd like much more information on the alternate proposal by the time it's heard next in the council's Ways and Mens Committee. That includes the projected year-end general and other fund balances, the impact of the library aid, expiring tax districts and pension changes, and the backlog of approved building projects that have been delayed, and other expected year-end budget
The politics of the situation is that the alternative proposal looks good to some on the council as long as there's a viable threat of a referendum that threatens a bigger tax increase. If city lawyers block the council and charter commission route, the Park Board still has the options of a petition drive or state legislation to authorize a vote. Superintendent Jayne Miller said she'll keep working toward a referendum while Johnson and Goodman search for votes.
Hodges spokesman David Prestwood said her priority is that the alternative park plan gets proper legal and financial vetting from city staff. Asked about a veto, he said, "She's not ready to rule out any option."