At least three of the six candidates in Rochester’s Sixth Ward say they support holding a referendum aimed at improving the city’s parks.

“Our parks department has done a good job with the budgets they have been given, but our city parks are in dire need of attention and deferred maintenance,” candidate Craig Ugland said, adding that he would expect a referendum question to define priorities and costs.

Rochester’s 2016 Parks and Recreation System Plan identified more than $80 million in potential improvements to city parks and recreational facilities, based on increased demand and proposed upgrades.

The Rochester City Council has discussed a potential referendum, asking voters whether they would support an added property tax, which could generate $1 million to $2 million a year, with a $17 to $33 added annual tax on the median-valued home in the city.

The nonprofit Trust for Public Land is conducting a survey on the issue, and the council expects to receive the results later this month.


“If the citizens want park improvements and are willing to incur additional property taxes and vote for it, I think it’s a good thing,” said candidate Donavan Bailey.

Candidate Molly Dennis also said the possibility of increasing property taxes should be approached carefully since they aren’t always an equitable way to fund projects.

Still, she said parks are good for mental health, and voters should decide their value.

“By investing in our parks and our people, we can create a healthier, safer Rochester for everyone to succeed,” she said.

Candidate David Diercks stopped short of saying whether he would support a referendum, but he voiced a need for added park funding.

“I’m all for funding city parks, simply because it makes the city safer and better to live in,” he said.

Two other Ward 6 candidates, however, said now isn’t right to ask voters to increase park funding.

“I cannot in good conscience ask a resident to pay more in property taxes, or taxes in general, for new initiatives in this unstable environment,” candidate Todd Pisarski said.

Instead, he thinks the city should re-prioritize its existing funds, indicating the $150,000 city contribution to Rochester Downtown Alliance’s Clean and Safe Ambassador Program, which includes daily cleaning in the downtown district, could be better used in the park system.

Candidate Tom Rigby also cited other spending needs and the desire to ensure the city has the resources needed to tackle existing uncertainty.

“At this time, not enough is known about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the city’s resources and the resources of the taxpayers over the long term,” he said.

Support for holding a referendum drops in the other three city council races, with only two candidates -- Brooke Carlson in the council president race and Michael Wojcik in Ward 2 -- indicating they would support holding a public vote on the issue.

The remaining candidates said the timing isn’t right to consider a move that could increase the local tax burden.

The candidates provided their thoughts on the issue in short videos, which are posted at