The community’s desire to pay for Rochester park upgrades will be studied this fall.
The Rochester Park Board approved a $39,000 contract with the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land to conduct feasibility studies, which could identify and assess the potential funding strategies for the city’s parks.
Among options that could be considered is asking voters to approve added funding through a 2020 ballot question.
"Phase one is finding out if we are ready," said Rochester Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman.
The Rochester Parks Master plan has identified a $70 million to $83 million need over 20 years for maintaining and growing park amenities in the city. Upgrades include the addition of splash pads to sports fields, as well as efforts to provide and maintain natural spaces in the city.
The Park Board is slated to hold a pair of discussions in October and November to prioritize the goals identified in the master plan.
"The big hurdle we have to make all this come together is the prioritization piece," Widman said.
Members of the Trust for Public Land met with the Park Board in August to discuss options.
The national nonprofit organization has a nearly 50-year history in helping fund and develop parks.
"Our mission is to create parks and conserve lands for people, ensuring livable communities for generations to come," said Jenna Fletcher, who is based at the trust’s St. Paul office.
She said the work is frequently done through securing or increasing public funding for park projects, which could lead to a ballot question.
In Minnesota, the trust has worked with 10 cities and counties in the past 15 years, helping pass ballot questions that generated more than $200 million for parks projects. The latest project was a 2018 ballot question in Brooklyn Park, which supported a $26 million parks bond with 63 percent voter approval.
Widman said it has yet to be determined whether a similar ballot question will be created in Rochester.
Funding for the feasibility study is coming from Parks and Recreation reserves, but further trust efforts, which could include creating ballot language and a public education campaign, would require another phase of work.
The Rochester Parks Foundation, which was created a year ago to support needs identified in the master plan, could also play a role.
Joanne Rosener, the foundation’s vice president, said the group would be able to play an advocacy role for any ballot effort, since part of its mission is to raise awareness of park needs.
"We recognize the items in the master plan will require a lot of funding," she said.
The move toward a ballot question, however, will require Rochester City Council support, and Widman said he plans to present options to the council during a future work session.
During Wednesday's council work session, council members voiced concerns about the discussion conflicting with the Rochester School District's efforts to pass a $180.9 million referendum in November.
"I would not be comfortable with anything that in anyway that communicated a bond or referendum with the school district's pending questions that are out there right now," Council Member Michael Wojcik said. "I certainly would not want to take away anything from the success of those proposals."