Plans for spending the annual $2 million in park referendum funds need greater community involvement and perhaps new priorities.
That was the message Monday from some Rochester City Council members Monday after they reviewed a six-year spending plan for referendum funds, along with anticipated city spending on park infrastructure.
“To me, in the last two months, when we’ve known we have $2 million, we haven’t done any public engagement, and that’s disappointing to me,” council member Shaun Palmer said.
Park and Recreation Director Paul Widman pointed to the 2016 Park System master plan as the defined guideline for referendum spending and said the document, which identified $80 million in repairs and upgrades, was created with extensive public input.
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“We feel we have pretty good feedback from the community,” he said, pointing to the system plan, as well as other studies and plans developed for city parks.
Palmer said the $2 million funding should be put on hold until additional community input is sought.
“I think we need to reopen this master plan,” he said.
Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick echoed the need for a fresh perspective.
“As we all know, our community has grown significantly in the past four to five years, so I think if we could beef up some community engagement … to really make sure the money is being spent where people want the money spent, I think that would be phenomenal,” she said.
Council members raised concerns about the potential split of funds for this year, noting that more funds appeared to go to larger regional parks, rather than community parks.
Widman, along with Rochester Parks and Forestry Division Head Mike Nigbur, said the funding for the regional parks this year is being driven, in part, by available state funds.
For example, to access $2.5 million in state funds for Cascade Lake Park, the spending plan calls for a match by the city, which is designated to come from $375,000 from the referendum funds.
“Those bigger parks do get a lot more use, and in my mind that warrants additional investment,” Nigbur said. “I’m not saying neighborhood parks are not important.”
Council member Nick Campion agreed, saying he sees the benefit in investing in the larger parks because of their unique regional impact.
“I think we need to push variety a little bit more,” he said, noting the city’s smaller parks often lack distinction.
Other council members said they’d like to see more funds earmarked for updating playgrounds and developing neighborhood parks.
Park staff has noted that the funding for upgrades defined in the plan aren’t pointed at specific parks in order to provide flexibility needed to address safety concerns, as well as areas where investment will have the biggest impact.
Widman said such work comes with added community engagement through the park board members.
The Park Board has also asked to earmark $100,000 a year to address community news as they arise throughout the city. The effort would mirror city council funding in 2018 that were used to provide updates to Friendship Park and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, as well as tree plantings.
Additionally, Widman said the plan will be revisited by the city council each year as the budget is developed.
With Monday’s council input for the 2021 spending plan, Widman said park and rec staff will revisit the plan and make potential changes for council review.
City Administrator Steve Rymer said staff will also develop a potential plan and determine potential costs for revisiting the goals of the system plan.
PROPOSED 2021 PLAN
Work outlined in the Parks and Recreation Department’s current $2.6 million spending plan for 2021 includes:
- $45,000 in improvements to city golf courses
- $256,000 for continued payments for work at the Rec Center and Graham Arena
- $150,000 for ongoing forestry efforts
- $350,000 for ongoing work at Gamehaven Active Nature Sports Park
- $375,000 for continued work at Cascade Lake Park
- $50,000 for projects at Quarry Hill Park
- $100,000 for replacing playground equipment
- $50,000 for developing neighborhood parks
- $30,000 for improvements to Hudson Field and McQuillan Field
- $125,000 for the Kutzky Park parking lot
- $150,000 to add a splash pad and warming house to Lincolnshire Park
- $250,000 for a splash pad and new ballfield at McQuillan Field Park
- $100,000 in trail development, including Zumbro North to 37th Street, Silver Lake, Soldier’s Field Memorial to 12tth Street Southwest and Cascade Creek Circle Drive
- $90,000 in natural resource management
- $50,000 for new park amenities
- $75,000 for pavement maintenance throughout the system
- $40,0000 for shelter updates throughout the system
- $150,000 for Plummer House water tower preservation
- $65,000 for court improvements throughout the city, including lighting, repaving and striping
- $100,000 reserved for a community impact fund for projects throughout the city’s six wards