ST. CLOUD — Voters here could see a question on the ballot this fall asking them to approve new funding for city parks.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis on Tuesday announced a plan to use bonding money — spread over 20 years — to pay for improvements at some of the city's 98 parks in the next five years.

"We have challenges every budget year, and we look at what we prioritize. As I've mentioned before, it's public safety, it's infrastructure. Oftentimes our neighborhood parks are just harder to [maintain] because the city comes into hard financial situations," Kleis said. "But parks and trails are important to retain and bring people into our community."

Kleis said he plans to ask the City Council to approve adding a referendum to the ballot this fall. The city also plans to ask voters to approve a new half-cent sales tax to pay for road projects, but the city must first obtain permission from the Legislature to put the referendum for road projects on the ballot.

Kleis made the announcement during his 17th annual State of the City address, where he also emphasized the importance of engagement. Since being elected in 2005, he's held more than 850 weekly town halls. This summer, Kleis plans to add "walk and talk town halls," where community members can join him to walk around Lake George.

"I do them because I think one of the greatest fears people have is public speaking," he said. "So if you come here to the council chambers and you want to voice your opinion, and you're afraid to speak — which is 80% of the public — how do you get that message out?"

Other announcements Tuesday included:

  • The city will sell lockers from the former Tech High School (current City Hall) for $500 to raise money to help preserve history at the building, including creating classroom replicas from the past century on the third floor;
  • Kleis named Hedy Tripp the winner of this year's Legacy Award. Tripp was one of the founders of the St. Cloud chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum. She's also a poet, writer and artist, and has served as coordinator for Create CommUNITY in St. Cloud;
  • Kleis named four students as the first winners of the St. Cloud Youth Building Award: Fyzeen Ahmad, Fahmo Abdi, Claire Sia Su and Sam Brewer.

"The state of the city of St. Cloud is solid, based on the foundation of people that have been doing things in this community for 100-and-some years," Kleis said. "The future of St. Cloud is solid because of the young people who are engaged and willing to make this a better community."