After months of talk, Minneapolis park commissioners are nearing put-up-or-shut-up time for raising additional money from voters for neighborhood parks.
Park superintendent Jayne Miller plans to bring a proposal to them on Wednesday evening with specific ballot language for a referendum that would authorize more spending on the smaller local parks in the system. The board isn't expected to vote on it until its subsequent meeting.
Miller has portrayed the decision on raising more money for those parks as the culmination of efforts to get park finances in hand. They follow staff cuts of more than 20 percent, and revamping of services such as tree trimming and trash collection.
Several park commissioners in previous discussions have vocally supported putting the question of raising more money for neighborhood parks to voters. But at the board's last discussion in October, some also said they need specifics on where the money would be spent before they're ready to authorize a referendum.
Miller's proposal likely will spell out how much money she thinks is needed annually and for how long, whether the spending will be strictly for building and playfield renovations or also cover some operating costs, and whether to sell bonds or merely authorize a higher levy. She's expected to present more specifics on how the money raised would be used. She's also indicated that she'll propose that the Park Board try to reach agreement with the City Council that it won't throttle back current capital spending for parks to offset the added referendum money.
Her proposal comes after months of meetings earlier this year at the neighborhood level at which park officials tried to make the case that neighborhood parks are underfunded, using examples of how building components and athletic fields are wearing out faster than the current budget allows them to be replaced.
Miller has said that neighborhood parks are getting $9.3 million annually less than needed to keep up on capital spending and $3 million annually less than needed for operating chores such as mowing grass, pruning trees or repairing paths.
However, Council President Barbara Johnson has said that she thinks that a referendum proposal will be greeted skeptically by her colleagues over concerns about burdening taxpayers. A park proposal also likely would come before voters at the same November election as a proposal by Minneapolis Public Schools asking voters to renew its extra property tax for schools.
(Children play at Matthews Park in the Seward neighborhood, one of those where replacement of totlot equipment has been delayed by tight finances for Minneapolis parks.)