Minneapolis Park Board commissioners accepted Superintendent Al Bangoura's 2023 recommended budget of $142 million on Wednesday night, relying on a property tax increase of 5.4% from 2022 in the face of decreasing state funds.
It is the first budget passed by the current board of commissioners under its four-year strategy for carrying out the initial priorities of the Parks for All comprehensive plan, adopted last year to last through 2036.
"It truly is foundational," Bangoura said. "If you look at these [strategic plans], you'll see they're very clearly defining the work of the next four years for this board and what they're trying to accomplish."
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey recommended — and the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) set — the 2023 maximum tax levy for the Park Board at $78.5 million to maintain current services, replace the loss of millions in Local Government Aid after the state Legislature didn't pass a tax bill this year and hire additional police for downtown parks. Local Government Aid is the park system's second-largest revenue source, after property taxes.
Frey and the BET declined the Park Board's request of $443,000 to hire workers to focus on prolonging the lifespan of its many buildings, playgrounds, sports courts and other assets across the park system. Park staffers said they intend to push the same request next year.
Changes new to the 2023 proposed budget include two additional police officers and two full-time park patrol agents to staff a "Downtown Service Area" comprising several new park spaces including the North Loop Park, Water Works and the Commons, which are seeing more activity as downtown lurches out of its pandemic lull.
It also includes new fees to stabilize the Enterprise Fund, which supports programs throughout the park system that operate like businesses, where expenses are recovered through user charges. They include a new busker fee of $50 a year and increases to the cost of hiring marshals and police officers for private events, picnic shelter rentals, ice rink rentals and golf season passes.
"Anytime we do fee increases, we're doing a comparative analysis. ... Like for the golf courses, they do a comparative analysis of the other golf courses that are around us, and we try to stay a little bit under," said park Finance DirectorJulia Wiseman.
The budget also provides for an Americans with Disabilities Act administrator to address disability needs throughout the park system, as well as a multicultural communications staffer.
Parkway maintenance will get a small boost in the form of $50,000 per year through 2026 for seal coating, meant to extend the life of existing pavement for another decade. The dilapidation of Minneapolis' 55 miles of parkways has been a perennial concern of park users, and can be traced to a 2000 agreement in which the city allocates $750,000 annually for their maintenance in return for the Park Board taking care of all boulevard trees. That amount has been stagnant for more than 20 years, with park commissioners eager to find new funding sources.
Wiseman hinted that staff are working on some long-term options, but declined to detail what they are.
Park commissioners provided feedback on the budget during meetings in October and November. On Wednesday, they put aside $91,000 to hire a new natural resources technician, removing $39,000 for the Land Acquisition Fund and $52,000 from the Teen Teamworks youth employment program to pay for it. They also reallocated $250,000 set aside for a new parking lot in Minnehaha Falls toward security cameras in the area to aid in the prosecution of theft from vehicles.
The amended budget passed the committee unanimously.
The Legislature not passing bonding and tax bills this year hampered the Park Board's budgeting. The lack of a capital investment bill delayed all regional park projects by one year, and left the Park Board's other top capital requests unmet: $6 million for North Commons renovations, $12.3 million to fill the Grand Rounds Missing Link, $5 million to build out the second phase of Water Works and $12 million for green infrastructure and habitat restoration in Minneapolis creeks.
Depending on the course of inflation, delays could significantly increase construction costs, Bangoura said.
Next year will be the second year that the Park Board receives an additional $2.6 million through a combination of American Rescue Plan Act dollars and property taxes to expand youth services. Approved amid rising concerns of youth violence and a dearth of recreational opportunities due to COVID-19, the funding will continue indefinitely, with taxes gradually replacing federal dollars until they run out.
As part of the superintendent's long-term goal for youth programming, the Park Board aims to launch four more Spark'd Studios — creative tech labs with free media arts programming — in addition to its Powderhorn Park prototype for a total of five next year. They will be located at Harrison, Whittier, Luxton, Phillips and Graco.
The full board is expected to adopt the budget during a special meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, following the final public hearing of the city's 2023 tax levy and budget in room 317 at 6 p.m.