City approves alternative funding plan for parks

After deciding to postpone voting on a financing plan that leveraged a $2 million, five-year loan from the General Fund to address the FY2015 Parks Millage Fund deficit last month, city officials have agreed on an alternative option.

The new plan not only minimizes inter-fund borrowing, which was a concern raised by city commissioners during the Oct. 13 Committee of the Whole meeting, but also allows the planned improvements for Mary Waters, Dickinson, Douglas, Camelot, Campau and Mulick parks to proceed between the spring and summer of 2016.

In response to the alternative option, Mayor George Heartwell suggested it was a very reasonable compromise between solving the problem of the debt and continuing the park repair and improvement projects.

“I am most interested in seeing us keep this work going,” said Heartwell. “I think we owe that to our citizens.”

Eric DeLong, deputy city manager, outlined the new approach during the Oct. 27 Committee of the Whole meeting and indicated the alternative plan can resolve concerns about the deficit and keep projects moving forward as planned.

The new plan for the Parks Millage Fund deficit involves obtaining a $1.2 million, five-year loan from the General Fund at 1 percent interest; continued planning for Mary Waters, Dickinson, Douglas, Camelot, Campau, and Mulick parks; and bidding all six parks in the winter and spring of 2016 with a staggered construction schedule so five parks fall after July 1, 2016, which is when the 2017 fiscal year starts.

The new plan also uses $560,000 from the Community Development Block Grant funds to proceed in spring 2016 with improvements to Mary Waters Park, which were previously committed to the project, and allocates an additional $365,000 in CDBG funds reserved for infrastructure projects in FY2016.

David Marquardt, director of parks and recreation for the city, said the significance of the decision to support a financing plan to continue moving forward with the projects allows the city to keep on track for completing “all the work we intended to complete in the seven-year timeline. Had they been delayed, we would have been hard-pressed.”

The public was invited to attend park planning workshops throughout October to engage in creating and verifying new concept plans for Mary Waters, Mulick, Douglas, Dickinson, Campau and Camelot parks.

During Dickinson’s Oct. 24 open house, Marquardt said one participant commented that if people saw the time and effort the city is putting into seeking community input, “individuals would see it is the people’s voice that matters the most.”

Marquardt said another round of workshops is planned for late November and early December, at which point the design process will be far enough along to finalize plans and to have engaged with neighborhoods at least once.

“Those will be really important meetings for people to participate in,” said Marquardt. “I can’t stress enough the importance of neighborhood groups participating in the process.”

Marquardt said it was fair to say there has been a nearly 50 percent increase in usage at the newly renovated parks.

“The feedback has been tremendous. Cherry Park was completed this summe, and we continue to get thanks, emails and notes from park users and neighborhood groups,” said Marquardt. “It is just a good social outing and social space that wasn’t really here before.”

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