Another rift has opened between Minneapolis City Hall and park commissioners on a proposed park funding referendum, this time over whether the City Council has the power to put the levy question on the ballot.
The city attorney’s office told council members this week that it believes they lack authority under either state law or the city charter to put a park levy increase on the ballot.
Brian Rice, an attorney representing the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, disagreed. “I think we have a really strong argument,” he said.
While talks continue, Park Board President Liz Wielinski said it may be best to seek a state attorney general opinion on the differing interpretations. But the Park Board may lack standing to seek such an opinion on its own.
The Park Board’s proposal asks voters to authorize a park tax increase of about $15 million annually, plus inflationary increases over time. It seeks a November vote, but the board lacks the power to put the matter on the ballot itself, and the easiest route is through the City Council.
A presentation on the city’s legal position was supposed to be discussed this week by the council but was postponed due to other business. Lawyers cast doubt on the council’s power to order a vote on a pay-as-you-go levy, but noted that it could put a bond issue on the ballot. The Park Board, however, prefers a pay-as-you-go levy instead of borrowing and incurring interest costs.
Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder said he had not yet researched whether the park levy proposal could be placed on the ballot through alternate processes — working through the city’s Charter Commission or a petition drive.
The Park Board could ask the Legislature to authorize the referendum. But at a recent Park Board meeting with area legislators, state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said he’d prefer that the matter go on the ballot through local means to keep it away from legislators unfriendly to Minneapolis.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, the council’s intergovernmental relations chair, said the park referendum will be discussed at two upcoming council sessions. She said she believes the council is generally supportive of more park funding.
The differing legal views arise as the city and Park Board try to bridge differences arising from the levy proposal the Park Board sent last month to City Hall.
The board wants protection against City Hall making other offsetting cuts to the park budget if voters raise park taxes. Mayor Betsy Hodges said the proposal went too far in trying to instill that hold-harmless protection. She vetoed the proposal, the board overrode her veto, and now both sides are talking further.