Coon Rapids to vote on park bond issue Tuesday

An up or down vote on whether to have a park bond referendum on the Nov. 5 general election ballot will be taken by the Coon Rapids City Council at its meeting Tuesday.

The council had a work session with members of its Parks and Recreation Commission present April 24 to receive results from the citywide survey which focused on residents’ views on the proposed park bond issue.

Under the current scenario, the council is looking at a park bond issue of $21.5 million with the following project list:

• Reconstruction of Sand Creek Park, $5,857,000.

• Reconstruction of Riverview Park, $2,008,000.

• Reconstruction of Lions Coon Creek Park, $962,000.

• Regional trails expansion as well as trails/sidewalks connections, $9,626,000.

• Construction of Evergreen Dog Park on city-owned property in Evergreen Business Park, $83,000.

• Construction of Boulevard Park in front of the Coon Rapids Ice Center, $888,000.

• Reconstruction of Riverwind Park, $756,000.

• Reconstruction of Crooked Lake Beach Park, $770,000.

• Reconstruction of Delta Park, $287,000.

• Reconstruction of Mason Park, $427,000.

• Reconstruction of Woodcrest Park, $633,000.

Following a presentation by Bill Morris, president of Decision Resources, Ltd., the Minneapolis-based company that conducted the survey, the project list could well change as well as the amount of the bond issue.

While there was consensus on the council to go forward with the bond issue, the dollar amount that councilmembers were willing to put on the ballot ranged from $15 million to $17.5 million.

But the final amount of the bond issue and the projects and their scope to be included in the referendum do not have to be decided at the May 7 meeting, according to City Manager Steve Gatlin.

However, Anoka County, which conducts the elections, needs to know within a week or so whether Coon Rapids will have a park bond issue on the ballot, Gatlin said.

And the council will have to set a budget for the election costs as well as the cost of preparing and printing materials outlining the content of the bond issue.

Gatlin is recommending that the council approve a $50,000 budget May 7 to come from the parks improvement fund budget.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the council and its Parks and Recreation Commission will have a joint work session Monday evening (May 6).

The Decision Resources survey comprised telephone calls to 400 random households in Coon Rapids between Feb. 27 and March 11.

The survey is valid within plus or minus 5 percent in 95 out of 100 cases, according to Morris.

The survey found that there was very, very good usage of the park system by residents compared with other cities, Morris said.

“The parks system is truly an asset,” he said.

When asked whether they supported a tax increase for the specific components of the park bond issue, there was strong backing for trails/sidewalks connections (71 percent) and improving regional trails (68 percent).

Support for improvements for most of the parks scored in the low to mid 50s with opposition in the upper 30s to lower 40s.

Sand Creek Park received 55 percent support, Crooked Lake Park 53 percent, neighborhood parks (Delta, Mason, Riverwind, Woodcrest) 55 percent and Lions Coon Creek Park 56 percent.

But backing for redevelopment of Riverview Park was evenly divided with opposition, 46 to 47 percent, while opposition was stronger than support for the new Boulevard Park, 51 versus 45 percent, and opposition to the new dog park was at 62 percent.

“That’s the one red flag,” Morris said of the dog park number.

Asked for priorities for development, trails/sidewalks connections fared best with 22 percent top priority and 18 percent second priority with improving regional trails coming in at 11 percent top priority and 20 percent second priority, Sand Creek Park at 17 percent top priority and 6 percent second priority and renovating neighborhood parks at 12 percent top priority and 6 percent second priority.

According to Morris, the survey found that 13 percent strongly supported the referendum and another 41 percent support it, while 17 strongly oppose and 24 percent oppose with 6 percent unsure.

The survey found that on average a $4 tax increase per month or $48 a year was the median amount that residents would accept.

But Morris said that 33 percent of residents were opposed to any tax increase.

Figures presented to the council by Finance Director Sharon Legg showed that a $21.5 million park bond issue would result in a tax increase ranging from $28.22 year for a home valued at $100,000 to $113.96 annually for a home value at $300,000, while for commercial/industrial property the tax increase ranged from a $77.47 for a property valued at $200,000 to $458.88 for a property valued at $1 million.

“The survey numbers are pretty good,” Morris said.

Passing the referendum is doable, but it will take a quite a volunteer effort to produce the grass roots support needed, according to Morris.

While there is core opposition, there is a strong percentage of respondents who are persuadable in a person-to-person campaign, Morris said.

“Ideally, we would like to have the support at the 60 percent level,” he said.

The council discussion with commission input was wide ranging, but it was clear that the dog park would be out of the referendum.

Instead, the city would continue to work with Anoka County and the city of Andover on a dog park in Bunker Hills Regional Park on 133rd Avenue.

Because of lack of survey support, the proposed new Boulevard Park in front of the Coon Rapids Ice Center is also a likely casualty.

And councilmembers also talked about scaling back other projects proposed in the bond issue, including Riverview Park, Crooked Lake Park, Riverwind Park and some sidewalk infilling.

But what concerned Councilmember Denise Klint the most was whether there would be the ability to recruit enough volunteers to generate enough grass roots support to pass the bond issue.

But members of the Park and Recreation Commission indicated that they would be working hard on the bond issue and would be looking to other city commissions as well as sports user groups in the city for volunteer support.

According to Gatlin, he had received push back from a few members of the business community concerned about the impact of the bond issue on their property taxes.

And some councilmembers felt that the bond issue could not remain at $21.5 million to pass, which prompted the $15 million figure.

Mayor Tim Howe, however, said he did not want to see it lower than $17.5 million and commission members said they considered $18.5 million the lowest they wanted to go.

There was also discussion about going to a tiered approach in the referendum, rather like the Anoka-Hennepin School District does with its levy referendums, asking for a yes or no vote on a specific issue, rather than just an overall figure.

The process toward the proposed park bond issue began last year when the council approved a contract with WSB & Associates for an updated parks master plan when it became clear that there was not funding available for a planned reconstruction of Riverview Park.

According to Gatlin, in the years 2002-2011 the city spent about $7 million, or some $700,000 a year, on major park and trails improvement projects by using a combination of park dedication fees, general fund tax levy and grant funds.

“Funding is no longer available to continue this annual improvement program,” Gatlin wrote in a memo to the council for a 2012 work session.

At this time, many of the city’s major park and trail facilities have safety concerns, handicap accessibility issues and, for the most part, show normal wear and tear after 20-30 years of use, he wrote.

“Many of our facilities are outdated in terms of current park planning standards and are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain,” Gatlin wrote.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]