There's good news for Minneapolis park commissioners who want a referendum to prop up neighborhood parks: The climate for raising property taxes to maintain parks has improved immensely since a 2009 survey conducted during the depths of the recession.
Seventy-seven percent of the 500 residents polled this spring said they support a property tax increase to maintain parks' physical condition, programs and services. That's up by more than 40 percentage points since a similar question was asked in 2009 by the same firm. The amount of tax increase was not specified. Just 11 percent opposed the idea.
"I'm glad to hear that we're still beloved by the citizens and they're willing to pay to keep what they've got," said Park Board President Liz Wielinski.
In the earlier survey, conducted when many residents were concerned about holding onto their homes and jobs, only 35 percent favored a tax increase to maintain services, while 44 percent were opposed. Both polls calculated a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
"Timing is everything when you're going to go out and do a referendum," Wielinski said.
The survey by the Morris Leatherman firm found Minneapolis parks have a strong reservoir of good will among city residents. But a potential referendum campaign to raise taxes for neighborhood parks would need to convince voters that some neighborhood facilities are in bad shape and that the increase would be used to address that, not for new stuff.
Those are some takeaways from the initial polling results presented by pollster Bill Morris to park commissioners during a budget retreat Wednesday. They'll get a more nuanced look at the survey results at their regular meeting next Wednesday.
Ninety-five percent of those polled rated Minneapolis parks as good or excellent. That's the highest rating of any park system for which the firm has polled in the Twin Cities area, Morris said.
But one problem for proceeding with a referendum is that 94 percent of those polled rated city parks good or excellent for appearance and maintenance. That could be a barrier if commissioners decide later this year to ask voters for more money to address what Superintendent Jayne Miller calls an alarming backlog of work in neighborhood parks.
Some of the needs are visible, such as cracking sidewalks, or worn or weedy ball fields. But many others are less obvious, such as upgrading the mechanical systems and energy-efficiency of park buildings that mostly date to the 1960s and 1970s, or replacing their worn roofs.
At least 82 percent of respondents said they'd support adding more concessions and rental businesses to parks, adding more corporate sponsorship in parks, and selling naming rights. Those likely are more feasible for regional and larger parks than smaller neighborhood parks.