Coon Rapids council puts park bond issue on November ballot

The Coon Rapids City Council has given the green light for a park bond issue to be placed on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

cr logoAnd it has set a maximum bond issue amount of $17.2 million, which could be less, but not more, come election day.

The vote to move forward with the park bond issue came after an April 24 council work session, at which members of the Parks and Recreation Commission were present, to receive results from the citywide survey which focused on residents’ views on the proposed park bond issue.

Following that meeting staff took another look at the original $21.5 million proposal and the projects included in it in light of the survey results and a feeling from several councilmembers that the figure was too high.

New staff proposals as well as a lower referendum cost were presented at a meeting Monday night which three council members (Jerry Koch, Ron Manning and Steve Wells) and six commission members attended.

Staff recommended that the referendum budget be shaved some 20 percent to $17.2 million.

“That number was approved in concept by those at the meeting,” Gatlin said.

And that was the maximum figure agreed to by the council Tuesday on a 6-0 vote. Councilmember Bruce Sanders was not at the meeting.

To reduce the bottom line of the referendum, a number of changes were made.

The Evergreen Dog Park, which was opposed by a majority of residents responding to the survey, was eliminated.

In addition, improvements proposed for Crooked Lake Beach Park have been scaled back and do not include beach upgrades, according to Gatlin.

As well, the large shelter building originally included in the Riverview Park reconstruction was removed, Gatlin said.

However, another neighborhood park, Pheasant Ridge, was added to the bond referendum projects, he said.

But the largest reduction, $3.1 million, came through cutting out filling in sidewalk gaps that were part of the original proposal, according to Gatlin.

The sidewalk gaps are now recommended to be funded through other sources, possibly by appropriating $300,000 over the next 10 years from state Local Government Aid (LGA), Gatlin said.

Because of state government cutbacks, Coon Rapids has not received any LGA dollars in recent years.

But in both the Senate and House tax bills, now being worked out in conference committee and through negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton, the city would get almost $1 million in LGA dollars in 2014.

Given the uncertainty over the future of LGA, Gatlin is recommending that the money be applied to one-time capital expenditures, not ongoing operational expenses, he said.

According to Gatlin, the new referendum figure would reduce the property tax on all property classifications 20 percent from the original numbers based on a $21.5 million bond issue.

On a benchmark $150,000 value home, the tax increase would drop from $49.66 a year or $4.14 a month to $39.72 a year or $3.31 a month, Gatlin wrote in a report to the council.

And on a $300,000 value home, the tax impact would be reduced from $113.96 a year ($11.04 a month) to $91.17 a year ($7.60 a month).

The project list presented Tuesday includes:

• Sand Creek Park, full renovation, new tennis courts/skate park, $5,700,000.

• Riverview Park, new skate park, playgrounds, T-ball field, $1,400,000.

• Crooked Lake Beach Park, renovation to improve layout, tennis courts, trails, playground, $900,000.

• Regional trails expansion – Coon Creek, Sand Creek and 85th Avenue – $1.6 million.

• Eliminating trail gaps, $4,100,000.

• Lions Coon Creek Park, improve layout and group shelters, renovate play areas, $900,000.

• Riverwind Park, new basketball court, small skate park, playground and renovate parking/trails, $500,000.

• Delta Park, complete renovation, $300,000.

• Mason Park, complete renovation and improve passive amenities, $300,000.

• Woodcrest Park, complete renovation, new play area and shelter, disc golf, $600,000.

• Pheasant Ridge Park, improve trails/connections, update playground and amenities, new group shelter, $200,000.

• Construction of Boulevard Park in front of the Coon Rapids Ice Center, splash pad, play area, picnic space/seating, $600,000.

According to Gatlin, neighborhood parks, which are rated medium or low priority in the master plan and not included in the park bond referendum, would be completed by levying $200,000 a year in the annual city budget for 10 years.

If approved the park bond issue program would be implemented over a 10-year period, Gatlin said.

The council Tuesday also appropriated $50,000 from the 2013 parks improvement fund budget for referendum-related costs.

This will pay for producing concept-level drawings and the information materials that the city will provide voters about the proposed park projects, according to City Manager Steve Gatlin.

The materials will describe “what kinds of improvements are proposed for which parks,” Gatlin said.

By law, the city cannot promote the bond issue, he said.

According to Mayor Tim Howe, it has been a two-year process to get to this point and no one has got 100 percent of what they wanted. “This is an important crossroads for the city,” Howe said.

Manning said there were discussions at the meeting Monday that could result in another $600,000 being cut from the bond issue total.

And in making the motion to set the bond issue at up to $17.2 million, Councilmember Paul Johnson said that provides the option to reduce more.

Wells thanked the Parks and Recreations Commission for its work on the master plan and bond issue.

“It has put in an incredible amount of work and I appreciate what it has done,” he said.

Wells is proud of the parks in the city and passage of the bond issue will enable “us to do things that we want to do,” he said.

“It comes at a cost, but nothing is free these days,” Wells said.

The process toward the park bond referendum 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.

The city has some 40 parks, which include athletic fields, ice rinks, sliding hills, play areas and skate parks, and more than 20 miles of trails covering nearly 900 acres.

Peter Bodley is at
[email protected]