POLL: Would You Pay a Quarter a Month for Better Parks?
With the park fund running out of money—again—the city is discussing a more-reliable way to support Hopkins parks.
Seven sets of Hopkins playground equipment will be more than 20 years old by 2015. The city’s picnic shelters and warming houses are between 30 and 50 years old. The Harley Hopkins warming house was built in 1959. Overall, Hopkins parks are “drab” compared to neighboring communities, Park Board members told the City Council on Tuesday.
“I think we’re a little behind the curve, to be blunt,” Park Board Member Tom Jenny said.
Yet the city doesn’t have the money to fix them up right now. While the park fund grew in 2012 it’s predicted to be in the hole by 2014, even assuming a maintenance schedule that does little in the way of big improvements.
Consequently, Park Board members are asking the City Council to consider increased park fees that residents would likely feel more directly—a request that comes less than a year after the board convinced the council to increase developer fees.
“We know that when people come into the city, they see the parks and form value judgments—and these value judgments might have a part in living here or doing business here,” Park Board Member Norm Teigen said.
Hopkins has historically supported its parks though park dedication fees, which are payments developers make to cities that go toward local parks. For example, the fund received a $380,475 infusion from the Excelsior Crossings and Marketplace & Main developments.
But because the fees are based on development, the park fund is subject to a feast-and-famine cycle that discourages the city from making big investments into its parks. The city can also waive the fees if it wants to entice developers onto a particularly hard-to-develop property.
“We’re fat and happy and full one year and three years later we’re skinny and starving. And that just makes us hesitant,” Jenny said.
Fund shortages led the council in August to increase park dedication fees for residential, multi-unit developments $800 per unit to $1,500 per unit. But the sentiment on Tuesday was that the unpredictable nature of those funds should make them more of a bonus for local parks instead of the main funding stream.
“These are kind of the extra money you get when you get lucky and have redevelopment every couple of years,” Mayor Gene Maxwell said. “So don’t count on it.”
Park Board members suggested a few alternatives. The one that drew the most attention was an increase to the franchise fee that residents pay with every utility bill.
The exact increase would depend on what the city determines are the parks’ needs, but council members and the Park Board talked about an increase in the neighborhood of 25 cents per month. That would provide a steady revenue stream for the parks at a cost of only a few bucks a year to families, they said.
Hopkins could also submit another referendum to voters, as it did with a $3.5 million park improvement bond in 1989. Or it could simply dedicate a portion of the general fund to park improvements.
Park Board members also suggested less conventional ideas, such as park naming rights or private contributions. But Maxwell warned that private grants are like the park dedication fees: It’s great if you can get them, but they’re not something you can rely on.
For now, the Park Board is going to take a look at what exactly Hopkins parks need and the city will question residents about how they’d feel about paying more for local parks.
Be sure to vote in the poll above and then share your opinion in the comments below about what improvements you’d like to see to Hopkins parks.
Park Fund Balance
- 2011: $112,195
- 2012: $198,577
- 2013: $89,563
- 2014: -$5,542
SOURCE: Park Board