Metro-area communities may be required spend up to 10 percent of their share of state parks Legacy funds to attract more youth, new immigrants, and racial and ethnic minorities to regional parks under a proposal approved Monday by a committee of the Metropolitan Council.
The Met Council’s Community Development Committee was asked to choose sides between its own staff on the one side and its own Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission on the other. It went with the staff on a 4-1 vote at the St. Anthony City Hall.
It’s now up to the full council to settle a ferocious, behind-the-scenes battle over how aggressively to move in spending millions of dollars to attract more underserved communities to major urban and suburban parks such as the Chain of Lakes. The council will take up the matter Sept. 28.
At stake is a pot of money from state Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment funds raised by a small sales tax (three-eighths of 1 percent) approved by voters in 2008. The fund has grown to nearly $100 million in the metro area over the past five years. The question is how much of that to devote to connecting underserved populations to the parks.
Community Development Committee members approved a proposal by staff research analyst Raintry Salk to require agencies to allocate a minimum of 5 percent of their Legacy funding to “connecting people and the outdoors,” then grow that share to 10 percent by 2021.
Parks leaders across the seven-county region say that’s too much.
“We should step back to see if there’s a spirit to meet these funds without a cookie-cutter approach for everyone,” Adam Arvidson, a member of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, said at Monday’s meeting.
The Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission earlier voted 7-1 to spend the recommended 5 percent next year, but made no commitment to an increase.
Met Council staffers note that Minnesota’s state parks are dedicating 17 percent of their Legacy dollars to draw new visitors, nearly six times as big a share as the metro parks. They want to split the difference between that figure and the metro area’s current 3 percent share, phasing up to 10 percent.
That’s still a major shift, though, and local parks officials say that will come straight out of the kitty needed to make the parks worth visiting at all.
Minneapolis’ parks superintendent warned, in a letter to the Met Council, that for the city alone the tab would exceed $300,000 a year.
“If Minneapolis spent that kind of money on fliers, advertising, programs, etc., instead of reconstructing trails and building the new things the community wants,” Jayne Miller wrote, “we would be seriously questioned by our constituents.”
Of the five Met Council Community Development Committee members who voted Monday, only Gail Dorfman opposed. Voting in favor were Jon Commers, Wendy Wulff, Cara Letofsky and Steven Chavez.
Surveys have shown that visitors to many of the metro area’s regional parks remain disproportionately white even as the region’s demographics shift.
Conservationists meanwhile contend that the landmark Legacy Amendment that lies behind this money was sold as a quest for clean water and resource protection, while current spending is “unbalanced and biased toward new development and hard surfaces” favored by empire-building parks bureaucracies.