When the suburb next door has a very fancy aquatic park, Minneapolis residents are willing to forget about the ukulele lessons and ballet classes offered for 3-year olds at their neighborhood recreation center and cross the city line for a taste of the plush life in the ’burbs.
“We have antiquated facilities,” the city’s superintendent of Parks and Recreation told members of the City Council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee.
Superintendent Jayne Miller described nearby state-of-the-art water parks and indoor climbing walls as amenities that draw Minneapolis residents to suburban facilities. “The suburbs,” she said Tuesday, “have much more comprehensive programs.”
Minneapolis operates 47 recreation centers but does not have the resources necessary to staff and fund activity levels to compete with the suburbs, according to the department’s budget book presented. To this end, the Park and Recreation Board will begin a two-year process to study the problem and come up with a plan in 2014.
Already the department predicts that seven centers will be reducing their service hours from 28 to 14 a week, based on size of the facility and current use. Some of the centers were not originally designed for recreation.
“If my child wants a certain kind of water experience, it’s not the end of the world if I cross over to St. Louis Park to get that experience,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who suggested the park board seek regional partnerships.
Unlike Minneapolis’ system of rec centers, many suburbs opt for one large center with many attractions. The St. Louis Park Recreation Center, just a bike ride away from Minneapolis, has a huge outdoor aquatic park, two indoor ice rinks, two banquet rooms, indoor skateboarding and a full menu of sports leagues.
“We are missing the boat in many areas,” said Miller who noted that one of the challenges facing Minneapolis is likely public criticism over the cut in hours because the rec centers are closely tied to neighborhoods.
Miller would not speculate which centers might be candidates for reduced hours or what new programs might be added. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board expects to approve a 2013 budget that has a zero increase in property tax use.
New plan for tree removal
The most risky job on the Park Board staff is taking care of the 200,000 trees that line city streets and the thousands more in its parks and along the trails. Injuries to forestry employees account for 9 percent of the total for the entire park and rec staff.
“We don’t have the best safety record as an organization,” said Miller who has added an occupational health and safety officer to the staff.
Most of the injuries occur when large tree limbs or trunks are being fed into chippers parked on city streets. This practice will be eliminated, with the hope of lowering the injury rate and increasing efficiency.
In the new process, downed limbs, tree trunks and brush will be mechanically loaded onto trucks and moved to a central chipping site. The Park and Recreation Department plans to purchase two additional aerial tower bucket trucks and four additional log loaders.
Large chippers and many trucks will be removed from the fleet, reducing the number of vehicles from 62 to 46, a reduction of 28 percent. The new system is estimated to increase productivity by 40 percent and save $400,000 annually.
The department also is reorganizing top management staff and is in the process of hiring a deputy superintendent responsible for day-to-day operations. With the changes, the number of assistant superintendents will drop from five to three.
City ‘out of recession’
After the morning parks session, the budget committee shifted its attention to the Community Planning and Economic Development Department.
Its recommended 2013 budget totals $81.9 million, including two programs now in Regulatory Services. Without that transfer, though, the recommended budget would drop to $74.1 million.
Department Director Jeremy Hanson Willis would not comment on the status of the possible transfer of 67 jobs in the Business Licensing and Development Review functions. Mayor R.T. Rybak has suggested the change in seeking to reorganize Regulatory Services.
“This continues to be one of those pieces [of the budget] that is in motion,” said Hanson Willis. The committee is scheduled to hear an update Thursday on the reorganization process.
Although reluctant to talk about the reorganization, Hanson Willis was not shy about an economic turnaround in the city.
“The City of Minneapolis is out of the recession,” said Hanson Willis. “Job creation in Minneapolis is outpacing the state, the region and the nation.”
In the previous quarter, Minneapolis issued 1.430 permits for the construction of residential housing units, a number unmatched since 2006. Most of that will be for rental housing, with developers investing $126 million, compared with an average of $65 million a quarter.