Coon Rapids voters will give the yes or no Tuesday to a $17.4 million park bond levy that city officials say would fix deteriorated playgrounds, remnants of a torn-down park pavilion and 1960s-era lighting, among other things.
The City Council scheduled the levy referendum after a survey in the spring indicated residents would support it. Many of Coon Rapids’ 48 parks, some built in the 1960s, are showing their age, and dedicated fees from new development that helped fund parks in the past have dried up, officials say. Belt tightening in recent years also has meant the city has cut back on park maintenance and repair.
To this point, observers say it’s been a low-key campaign. No organized opposition has emerged. The city has released information, including an eight-minute video and two mailers. One “vote yes” group held a spaghetti dinner fundraiser and will send out a mailer targeting young families, who are heavy parks users.
If the levy passes, homeowners with a property valued at $150,000 would see a $41.77 increase in their annual city property taxes for 20 years. For owners of homes with values of $125,000, $200,000 and $300,000, the increases would be $32.75, $59.80 and $95.85, respectively.
“It’s really been quiet,” said City Council Member Ron Manning. “I haven’t gotten one call on it, nor have I gotten an e-mail on it. All I can do is go by the survey. The majority of the people there seemed to think it was a good idea.”
About 72 percent of the 400 households surveyed said they supported some or all aspects of a parks ballot measure.
Still, it’s no done deal. Other suburbs that have put parks measures on the ballot in recent years have seen mixed results. Cottage Grove voters voted one down in 2012.
Manning, an avid trail and parks user, said of the request: “I think it will be a really good thing for the city. It’s a nice city and we want to keep it like that.”
If the request passes, nine parks — including Sand Creek, Crooked Lake, Lions Coon Creek and Pheasant Ridge — would receive wholesale makeovers. New amenities could include new lighting, picnic shelters and playground equipment.
A new park, to be called Boulevard Park, would likely be built along Coon Rapids Boulevard that could include a splash pad and picnic area. Nearly 35 percent of the levy money would go to building trails and filling gaps in the existing trails system.
“We all use these parks. It’s a good opportunity to invest in this community,” said Ted Schmolke, chairman of the Coon Rapids Vote Yes committee and president of the Coon Rapids Athletic Association. “My lunch today alone was $13. I can easily make adjustments in my lifestyle to cover $41 in a year. If you divide it by days, it’s pennies.”
Schmolke said he started played softball as a young man at the Sand Creek ball fields in 1979. He still plays softball there today.
“It looks the same. It was good then but it’s deteriorating since then. It’s the same fencing and lighting,” he said. “It’s outdated. It’s time to redo. Sand Creek Park could be our crown jewel.”
Schmolke, whose children are grown, is urging other empty nesters to invest in the community.”
“I could easily say my kids are grown and gone. That’s a bad idea. I want to take my grandkid to a nice park,” Schmolke said.