South-metro beat: Fund will grow to cover parks-buying shortfall

 

The Metropolitan Council is about to pop a lot more money into a fund used for buying land for parks.

And it could add still more after that.

At a time when prices have fallen off steeply in some places for beautifully wooded and lake-strewn property, parks planners are eager to glom on to parcels they’ve long eyed as prime sites for public use before demand picks up again.

The regional planning agency this week agreed to borrow an additional $1.5 million to help deal with an immediate cash shortfall.

And it will study whether to make a bigger move yet: to raise its existing (and, local parks people contend, long-outdated) annual limit on new sales of bonds, now set at $7 million.

Among the potential beneficiaries, council staffers say:

• Spring Lake Park Reserve, in Dakota County, overlooking the Mississippi River near Hastings;

• St. Croix Valley Regional Trail, in Washington County; and

• Bloomington’s Hyland-Bush-Anderson Lakes Park Reserve complex.

Local parks planners say they have willing owners lining up to sell, in some cases after many years of patient diplomacy and promises to come through with the cash once the time is right.

Even after the $1.5 million, council analysts say, there’s a nearly $3 million projected gap between “available parcels and available funds.”

But the question of how far beyond the $1.5 million to go, they add, depends on further analysis, notably of property tax impacts. If growth in tax base as the economy revives would cover any jump, for example, minimizing hits on existing owners, the move becomes more palatable.

Another important issue is the ability of local parks agencies to handle the operations and maintenance needs. Parks agencies say they can sometimes rent land to farmers and others to cover short-term costs until there’s room to develop raw land as parks.

The metro area’s parks agencies collectively aim to expand a 55,000-acre system to nearly 70,000 acres.

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