Park Board eyes 3 percent tax hike to keep programs

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December 4, 2012 by Sarah M

By Nick Halter

Minneapolis Park Board commissioners on Wednesday will consider a resolution to increase its property tax levy by 3 percent in order to maintain recreation center hours and plant more trees, among other spending initiatives.

In a straw poll of the nine Park Board commissioners on Nov. 28, seven commissioners said they were prepared to approve a 3 percent tax levy increase, which will be up for a final vote on Dec. 12.  A 3 percent hike represents the maximum levy increase allowed by the Minneapolis Board of Estimation and Taxation.

“The fact of the matter is, I am looking at a list of things we need to have,” Commissioner Liz Wielinski said of the additional spending. “We need to have this to keep the park system running for the next couple years.”

By raising taxes by 3 percent, the Park Board will have an additional $1.4 million to spend in 2013 compared to 2012.

That additional tax money, according to a resolution, would keep recreation centers open the same hours as last year. The Park Board had considered a proposal to save $88,000 by halving the hours at six recreation centers, including Lyndale Farmstead and Kenny parks. 

“I didn’t run for Park Board to preside over the closing of rec centers,” said Commissioner Brad Bourn (District 6).

The resolution would also increase tree planting from 1,500 trees in 2013 to 5,000 trees. Park Board staff says in order to maintain the city’s tree canopy, 4,500 trees must be planted each year. The added 3,500 tree plantings will cost $343,000.

Also included in the tax levy hike proposal is $300,000 for parkway paving and lighting;  $300,000 for neighborhood park improvements; $150,000 for added staffing for the Night Owls program that hosts kids on weekend evenings; and $177,000 for aquatic invasive species prevention.

A proposal to add a $10 per team participation fee for youth sports leagues was nixed under the proposal.

Anita Tabb (District 4) and Bob Fine (at-large) were the only commissioners who said they wouldn’t support a 3 percent increase.

“There’s nothing in there that is not a worthy program,” Tabb said. “But I personally get feedback from people on a not irregular, unusual basis, where people think we’re a little out of whack with close-by, inner-ring suburbs.

“So what I hear people often say, ‘I don’t mind paying a premium (to live in Minneapolis), but I just feel like the premium has got out of whack.”

Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said a 3 percent tax increase by the Park Board would equate to a $7 tax increase for the owner of a $200,000 home that maintained its value from 2012 to 2013.

The Park Board’s portion of a home’s tax levy represents about 7 percent of a tax bill. So if your property tax bill is $3,000, about $210 would go to the Park Board.

According to a Park Board document, the current Park Board commissioners have raised taxes, on average, by 2.3 percent each year since they took office following the 2009 election. 

That’s less than previous Park Boards. The 2005-2009 Park Board raised taxes, on average, by 4.6 percent annually. The 2001-2005 Park Board raised taxes, on average, by 2.4 percent.

All nine commissioners are up for re-election in 2013.

No Park Board in the past 40 years has raised taxes less, according to the document. However, Park Board been has steadily been raising taxes for years. In 2012, the Board collected $47.2 million in property taxes, about twice as much as it did in 1997. 

“We are still the most frugal Park Board in 40 years,” said Board President John Erwin. 

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