The Bloomington City Council, bracing for a potential budget shortfall stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, is considering closing for good the city’s Creekside Community Center and motor vehicle office.
But the council unanimously decided Monday night to postpone a final decision for two weeks to give the public more time to weigh in on the issue.
“There is a chance that someone out in the community could bring forward something creative and innovative and something we haven’t thought of,” Council Member Shawn Nelson said. “I get the sense that a lot of people in our community right now don’t know that this decision is being considered.”
The city is facing a revenue drop of more than 18% with the loss of funding streams from its hotels and the Mall of America, lending urgency to the situation.
The city’s 2020 budget provides for $125,000 in property tax support for the motor vehicle office, and costs are expected to climb to $250,000 in 2021 and beyond.
Only six of Hennepin County’s 45 cities have their own motor vehicle office, including Bloomington’s, which is said to need updating. Fees for those services are determined by the state and can’t be adjusted by the city.
Creekside is an aging facility, and shutting it down would save an estimated $700,000 annually. One option the council will consider May 18 is moving 29 of Creekside’s 51 programs to the Bloomington Center for the Arts and other city-owned facilities.
Another option is a partial closure of the facility, cutting the number of programs offered there to 36. That would bring an estimated $303,000 in savings.
“I don’t think we have the luxury of time to start making some of these decisions,” said City Manager Jamie Verbrugge, adding that the city is looking for ways to mitigate the impact on taxpayers. “These are hard decisions. They are going to get harder.”
But several council members expressed concern about the lack of community engagement on decisions to close the facilities, something that also came up during the public comment period.
“We are saying because of ... COVID-19, we will not use the pillar of transparency and engagement, and I find that to be unacceptable,” said Council Member Jack Baloga. “We can’t do this in a vacuum.”
The Creekside center long has been at the center of discussions about transparency and proper community involvement. Plans for a new community center last year brought pushback from residents who felt left out of the process and opposed the idea of building a center at a popular park.
In December, the council chose not to vote on moving forward with the predesign phase of building a new community center at the park, instead choosing to explore the idea of multiple “centers of community” around the city.
Mayor Tim Busse said decisions on where to make cuts will continue to come before the City Council. While community engagement is important, he said, a delay may not change the reality of hard decisions.
“I think one of the more important priorities to look at now is to maintain the financial integrity of the city,” he said.