Minneapolis park officials are asking for a 4.9 percent increase in tax money for their 2015 budget on top of cutting hours at recreation centers and delaying construction projects.
The Park Board is trying to get the park department on solid financial footing after years of cuts, short-term financial shifts and growing concern that the city's golf operation needs a massive infusion of new money.
"We really have an unsustainable funding model," Park Superintendent Jayne Miller said at a budget retreat in July.
Minneapolis residents will get their first chance to comment on the budget at a public hearing Wednesday night.
The proposed new park spending is a leading factor driving up the city's share of the proposed property tax bill for Minneapolis residents. The park budget represents 8 percent of the total tax bill for Minneapolis property owners.
A share of the additional tax money for parks would go to remove and replace ash trees as the emerald ash borer spreads. But park officials also want to pour more money into park operations, a pot of money that has been redirected and siphoned off in recent years to deal with other budget cuts.
Park officials want to hire seven more full-time staff — mainly in administrative positions — but that would still leave the park system 89 people below its recent peak employment of 582 full-time workers.
The new budget proposal slices some hours at recreation centers at times when attendance has historically been light. It also eliminates staffing at the Longfellow House at Minnehaha Park. But it also provides for employees at the new natural filtration pool that's scheduled to open at Webber Park and an added day for supervising swimming outside the buoys at Lake Nokomis.
Miller also tried to address the larger financial issues facing the board. For example, the budget delays a number of construction projects due in part to rising construction costs and regional park funding cuts from state and metro agencies.
But there's another factor. Miller previously had shifted $2 million annually from the general parks fund to try to catch up on the aging facilities in neighborhood parks. But she's recommending cutting the money shifted to $1 million a year, saying the money is needed for regular operations, including park maintenance and youth services.
One way she's trying to cut costs is a targeted paring of hours at recreation centers.
"It's tough for me to put that on the table," Miller said.
The opening time for recreation centers would be delayed from noon to 3 p.m. in late August and May when kids are in school. All recreation centers also would close at 6 p.m., three hours earlier, on Fridays.
Seventeen recreation centers with gyms would close at 4 p.m., two hours earlier, on Saturdays. But the Night Owlz teen program on Friday and Saturday nights at nine centers would continue.
Miller also is trying to shore up the park system's fund that covers golf, indoor skating, cross-country skiing and other activities that charge fees. She hopes that a planned facility for ski, snowboard and snow tubers at Wirth Park will be popular and reduce the deficit for money-losing winter activities. Park officials are also planning renovations of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Cowles Conservatory, an effort aimed at making them profitable again after recent losses.
Some of the profits from golf fees and concessions are historically plowed back into course improvements. But some of that money was diverted to the general fund in the lean years, a practice Miller wants to end so they have more money to pay for golf improvements.
June rains and flooding ravaged the Meadowbrook and Hiawatha courses, and they're expected to remain closed in 2015, triggering a projected golf loss of more than $700,000. Park officials are looking at options that would renovate those courses with federal disaster aid and solve drainage issues.
The Park Board also needs to grapple with a consultant's report on golf operations, which last year said the seven Park Board courses could use $34 million in new spending. Meadowbrook and Gross courses make the most money, while the course at Fort Snelling could be at risk for closing.
The board's budget hearing begins after the 5 p.m. Park Board meeting at 2117 W. River Road N.