BY BRIAN ROSEMEYER – SUN NEWSPAPERS
Three Rivers Park District continues to work through a difficult economic period. The district has made numerous cutbacks including layoffs, leaving job vacancies unfilled, purchasing less maintenance equipment and scrimping wherever possible.
Three Rivers Park District Board of Commissioners met Nov. 15 to discuss the more than $34 million 2013 General Fund Budget at a public hearing in Plymouth.
“This was not an easy budget, the economy has greatly impacted our tax base,” said Howard Koolick, Chief Financial Director at Three Rivers. “We’re looking at significant funding challenges, and we have to prepare.”
While the park system functions with multiple smaller operating budgets, the general fund makes up the largest chunk of Three Rivers’ nearly $47 million total budget.
Property taxes in Hennepin County account for 81 percent of all revenue for the parks, while park use fees contribute 14 percent.
In the past year the parks took in nearly a quarter of a million dollars more in usage fees. While that helps, funding remains a problem.
Major increases in Three Rivers spending include raise in employee wages totaling nearly $365,000 and the cost of health insurance increase of more than $230,000.
In order to balance these increases, 25 full-time employees were laid off, saving more than $435,000. Three Rivers has also decided not to fill currently vacant full-time positions, caching an extra $300,000.
The district also found relief when the State of Minnesota took over funding for the $75,000-a-year Coon Rapids Dam to use as a fish barrier.
Regardless of harsh fiscal conditions, Three Rivers will not increase its tax levy in 2013, marking the fourth consecutive year that the levy will remain static.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” said Commissioner Sara Wyatt. “The preliminary levy we anticipated, and the one that went out on tax notices, called for a 2.79 increase. We always put it out at a higher level, but our staff worked extremely hard to bring it down to a zero percent increase.”
Koolick presented more good news in reporting that the park district is also catching up on its debt.
“We we’re able to fine tune additional funds within out debt service program,” Koolick said. “So we’re eliminating our debt service increase by $750,000, leading to a zero increase for tax payers.”
As the 2013 General Fund Operating budget moves forward, it will go before the Hennepin County Board for review. While the county can make changes to the budget and provide additional instruction or recommendations, the Three Rivers Board of Commissioners retain the ability to override the county.
The board will approve the final tax levy Dec. 20, with or without potential changes made by Hennepin County.