Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Maintaining Sufficient Funding for the Minneapolis Parks Department

The Minneapolis, Minnesota Department of Parks is headed by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (Park Board), a semi-autonomous body that is funded using diverse sources of revenue in order to help maintain the stability of funding over the short term.  The Park Board also has the authority to adjust the tax levy in the City of Minneapolis to pay for its activities, which has become an increasingly pressurized decision in light of recent spending cuts and freezes at the local and state levels.  This uncertainty has made this department's budgeting much more difficult recently, and the decision is made even more difficult by the fact that the City's parks have a great reputation nationally and local residents have high expectations for this civic resource.

Minneapolis exceeds peer cities such as Cleveland, Omaha and Wichita in the amount of real dollars and percentage of the respective city budget in Parks and Recreation allocations, however retrenchment has not been considered by the Park Board in recent years.

Amount allocated to parks in FY 2012
Percentage of total city revenue allocated to park system
$47.2 million
Cleveland, OH
$34.8 million
Omaha, NE
$31.0 million
Wichita, KS
$13.5 million

They have consented to freezes in their budgets in recent years, but the Park Board and the City of Minneapolis have made it clear that the parks continue to be a central part of the city's identity, and as such should not be cut back further.  In addition, the Park Board's status as semi-autnomous gives it the power of the purse to make revenue decisions outside of the authority of the City Council, which it did in 2013, increasing the local tax levy to help fund priority areas.

Despite (or perhaps, because of) these difficulties, the department has pursued private partnerships with nonprofits and businesses that have helped shore up some of its funding needs and engage in future planning while experiencing this volatility.

With increased help from these partnerships and a concerted attempt at promoting its public value to local taxpayers, the Minneapolis Parks Department can help regain some stability and continue to achieve its goals as the future continues to be volatile, at least in the short term.

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