Brooklyn Park is developing a park and recreation system plan and will partner with the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that assists municipalities across the country, as it works to find funding and determine public appetite for park construction.
Two recreation-based bonding measures that the city has been paying debt service on for approximately 20 years will mature and sunset in 2018 and 2019, said Jody Yungers, director of recreation and parks. A referendum that was approved in 1997 for park rehabilitation is one such bond. A second bond is related to the city’s geothermal ice arena. Together, the city has been paying approximately $1 million per year on debt service for these two bonds.
As a result, the city will need to decide how it wants to fund future park or recreation maintenance, as well as any land acquisition or new park construction.
Trust for Public Land approached the city to offer services related to identifying funding for parks, which could include new bonding referendum.
The nonprofit takes a systemic approach to its work, beginning with feasibility research. That is, its compiles data on the city’s fiscal capacity, political profile, election history, ballot language requirements and conservation priorities.
Following feasibility research, the nonprofit conducts public opinion surveys across a variety of methodologies. Through these polls, its measures the public appetite for park construction and funding, as well as determine what burden the taxpayers are willing to pay for their parks.
Using that data, the nonprofit and cities have crafted bonding referendum ballot language that is often more successful at the ballot box than that which the city could produce when left to its own devices.
The cost for the feasibility research would be approximately $16,000, but the Trust for Public Land works with private funders to lower that cost, according to Jenna Fletcher, program director for the trust.
The trust encourages cities to work with private funding sources to pay for public opinion surveys, so the data can be kept private.
If the city wants to continue constructing new parks, a bonding measure would be necessary, as the open space land acquisition fund would not likely have a fund level high enough to purchase new land on its own, Yungers said.
Currently, there is approximately $2.3 million in the open space land acquisition fund, Yungers said. The fund takes in approximately $300,000 to $600,000 per year in park dedication fees, she said.
The city and Three Rivers Park District have planned to collaborate on work at the Coon Rapids Dam for some time, Yungers said. The city has committed an estimated $4.1 million for this project. An estimated $2.6 million would be added to the fund as the result of the Blue Line extension project.
“We would, in one project, one small park, that actually [has a total cost of] $28 million, of which we’re somewhat committed about $4.1 million, that would bury [the open space land acquisition fund], which means we do nothing else in our park system,” Yungers said.
Councilmember Mark Mata said he opposed working with the trust and bonding for future park construction and maintenance. “I’m not one to go out and make the citizens pay a bond—it just shows that me as a government official can’t manage my own checkbook,” he said.
“What we pay for taxes in this city, maybe we’re all parked out,” he added. His constituents consistently have told him that taxes are too high, he said. The city needs to develop a new funding source to keep the open space land acquisition fund solvent, he said.
Councilmember Bob Mata said he has also heard consistently that residents think their taxes are too high. He said he would support working with the trust if costs are significantly lower than $16,000.
Councilmember Lisa Jacobson said she would support working with the trust.
“We do have land that the parks own that are not developed,” she said. “We have a lot of opportunity where our community is engaged and we bring them together for a variety of things. We could ask them questions until we’re blue in the face—how do we analyze their answers to get to what we need to know?”
If the city were interested in bonding, Mayor Jeff Lunde, and Councilmembers Rich Gates and Bob Mata said they would want to leave that decision with the voters rather than the council.
“When you ask people why they live here, it’s diversity and parks,” said Councilmember Terry Parks.
Councilmember Susan Pha said she was hesitant about supporting work with the trust because of potential future costs and the involvement of private source funding.
Gates said he supported working with the trust because it would cost the city more money to do the same work.
“We want to make an informed decision,” said Lunde, who supported working with the trust.
Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]