The Park Board seeks to close a growing annual funding gap to maintain the city's 157 neighborhood parks.  Credit: Harrison Park photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

The Park Board seeks to close a growing annual funding gap to maintain the city's 157 neighborhood parks. Credit: Harrison Park photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Park Board overrides mayoral veto on proposed referendum

Updated: February 3, 2016 - 8:25 pm

Park commissioners overrode a rare mayoral veto Wednesday.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted 7-1 to override Mayor Betsy Hodges’ veto of a resolution seeking a November referendum that would raise roughly $300 million over the next two decades to maintain the city’s nearly 160 neighborhood parks.

In her veto message, Hodges said the Park Board needs to redraft its resolution to include more flexibility if the city faces unforeseen fiscal pressures and language addressing what would be done if it collected more than projected. Hodges acknowledged a need for consistent investment into Minneapolis parks, but the board’s resolution “simply goes too far toward that goal.”

“It would provide an unprecedented level of guarantee for park dollars, a guarantee that does not exist for essential services like police and fire,” Hodges wrote. “If the language is redrafted, this will increase the chances of success.”

The measure needed support from six members of the semi-autonomous Park Board to override the veto. Last month, the resolution garnered an 8-0 vote with one commissioner absent. 

Several commissioners who voted to override the veto said they’re open to the mayor’s comments and in continuing conversations with her and the City Council. 

In her veto message, Hodges outlined her main concern: a lack of flexibility in the “extremely aggressive” proposed agreement that would change the fiscal relationship between the board and the city.

If the city faced disproportionate funding cuts, Hodges wrote, the city should be able use excess funds collected from the referendum to preserve fire, police or other essential services. Because the proposal would collect a percentage (.0388 percent) of estimated market value of the city, rather than an exact dollar amount, the board would only be able to estimate its revenue, Hodges wrote.

Commissioners Annie Young and Meg Forney said they are interested in adding a hold harmless clause to the resolution’s agreement component with the city. 

There was some pushback from the board. Commissioner Anita Tabb defended the proposed referendum’s built-in growth for inflation due to increasing costs over its 20-year life.

“If you look 20 years down the road, we’re trying to protect the system for a significant period of time,” she said.

Young said they should not lose any extra funds raised from the referendum because even with the additional money the board is simply closing its funding gap.

“We have plenty to fix in this system,” she said. 

District 6 Commissioner Brad Bourn, who represents Southwest Minneapolis and previously criticized the referendum resolution, said in an email that the mayor’s veto brought an opportunity to add language regarding equity and to work with other city officials. 

“I think that sends a message that we don’t want to work with our friends at city hall and our friends at the mayor’s office,” he said of the veto override.

Superintendent Jayne Miller said they are proactively working to strengthen the language regarding equity, but with limitations to the ballot language itself, she could bring a decision-making framework to guide the board’s referendum-related spending.

Commissioner John Erwin, who previously supported the referendum proposal, was absent Wednesday. 

The referendum proposal was the result of a year-long initiative from the Park Board to find a solution to the park system’s growing $140 million backlog in maintenance and infrastructure needs. Commissioners are seeking to raise property taxes by approximately $15 million per year for the life of the referendum.

Miller estimates the increase would translate to $66 a year for taxpayers with a $190,000 home, about $112 a year for those with $300,000 homes and about $174 annually for those with $450,000 homes.

While the Park Board is seeking the tax increase, it lacks the power to place it on the city’s November ballot. Miller and commissioners are working with the City Council, Charter Commission, the Legislature and a citizen group to move it forward. The board recently hosted an annual event with local lawmakers to showcase their legislative agenda and discuss the referendum.

Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner, is chairing a citizen effort to support the referendum and reiterated his support at the board’s meeting. They would need to collect approximately 6,900 signatures between May and July to authorize a referendum, according to the board.

“The citizen group stands ready, willing and, hopefully, able to assist this effort in the weeks and months ahead,” he said. 

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Here is the Park Board’s approved ballot language from the original Jan. 20 resolution:

 

MINNEAPOLIS PARK AND RECREATION BOARD

MAINTAINING AND IMPROVING MINNEAPOLIS NEIGHBORHOOD PARKS

 

Shall the City of Minneapolis be given the authority to levy additional property taxes equivalent to .0388 percent of the estimated market value of the city per year for twenty years for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to maintain, repair, and improve neighborhood parks, including repairing and improving recreational facilities to provide increased opportunities for children to recreate and experience nature outdoors, provide at-risk youth with recreational opportunities, improve access to parks and recreational facilities for people with disabilities, increase park safety, improve neighborhood parks in under-served areas of the city, and enhance natural areas.

 

BY VOTING ‘YES’ ON THIS BALLOT QUESTION, YOU ARE VOTING FOR A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.

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Mayor Betsy Hodges’ veto message