Partnership pact for parks will continue

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 4, 2011 - 4:01 PM

Three Rivers Park District and Scott County plan to keep sharing duties to help stretch funding.

Nine months into a cross-county partnership between the Three Rivers Park District and Scott County, both see merit in the arrangement and plan to continue it next year.

Aiming to stretch money to expand Scott County park services, the two sides this year traded staff and equipment on such tasks as mowing, culvert replacement and park reservations.

And now that a park police officer has resigned, the Scott County Sheriff plans to take over the patrol at two parks in Scott County owned by Three Rivers -- freeing up $60,000 from Three Rivers' police budget for other Scott park needs.

"We are working very closely together and we have identified and accomplished some things that achieve real benefits," said Mark Themig, Scott County parks and trails manager. "I think we have made huge strides toward the overall framework for the partnership during the first year."

Because the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed by voters in 2008 and other regional park funding will provide the capital to buy and develop new park land, Scott County is in a good position to expand its park holdings, Themig said.

Next year, for example, the county has $1.3 million from the Legacy Amendment that it will use to begin the development of Spring Lake Regional Park.

What the county does not have -- because it wants to hold its tax levy steady -- is an expanding source of park operating funds. "The capital money is the easy part," Themig said. The question is "once you build, it how do you maintain it?"

That's why Scott County turned to Three Rivers -- which is supported by suburban Hennepin County taxpayers.

"The operating efficiencies we create will allow us to expand operations," Themig said.

The benefits of the partnership to suburban Hennepin County taxpayers are expanded park opportunities in Scott County, said Three Rivers Superintendent Cris Gears. The park district's goal in joining the partnership has been to not increase the contribution from suburban Hennepin County taxpayers.

Three Rivers owns and operates three parks in Scott County: Cleary Lake Regional Park, Murphy-Hanrehan Park Preserve and The Landing. About 9 percent of the visitors are from suburban Hennepin County, according to the park district.

Scott County paid a fee -- about $604,000 -- for Three Rivers to operate Cleary Lake and Murphy-Hanrehan and it proposes to make the same payment next year.

The Scott County contribution goes toward a joint operating budget of $1.4 million this year, of which about $570,000 comes from park user fees. Scott County also budgeted $254,000 for other park services this year.

Three Rivers and Scott County have proposed the same budget commitments for 2012, but levies are still under discussion.

Toward the end of the year, Three Rivers has promised a detailed review of the time and money exchanged in the partnership.

Gears predicted that the county-park district alliance will become a model of government cooperation. "I am really quite delighted with how it's going. In these tough economic times, governments are looking for ways to be efficient."

To see lands Scott County plans to develop as parks in the future, Three Rivers board members recently joined Scott County commissioners for a tour through the county.

As the small bus they rode in climbed to the top of the knoll occupied by St. Catherine Church on County Road 8, they got a view of the jewel of the trip -- a rolling, unspoiled landscape sparkling with shallow lakes.

Scott owns 490 of the 1,100 acres it one day hopes to turn into Doyle-Kennefick Regional Park. It may be decades before the owners of the rest of the land are willing to sell it, Themig said.

Establishing the boundaries of the park now tells landowners "if they are interested in selling, the county is a potential buyer."

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711

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