City: Reconfigured Parks Fund Referendum Critical, Equals $94 Annually For $200K Home

The Parks Fund levy referendum would replace the current levy from 2012 and will be voted on at the ballot Nov. 8.

DULUTH, Minn. – The November 8th election is just around the corner, and Duluth residents will be voting on whether to approve a new Parks Fund levy that would replace the current levy that took effect in 2012.

Jim Filby Williams, the city’s Property, Parks and Libraries director, told FOX 21’s Dan Hanger Wednesday that many of Duluth’s 120 invested parks are either outdated, abandoned or in disrepair.

“It is not only dilapidated, it is designed to meet the recreational interests of people in 1960,” Filby Williams explained of Observation Park.

The proposed Parks Fund levy isn’t a new idea. There’s been one in place since 2012 that includes a cap of $2.6 million.  The levy will remain in place indefinitely even if the reconfigured levy is voted down on the ballot.

So what’s the problem and what’s changing?

The city said  the fixed levy of $2.6 million annually is not even close to handling today’s costs of maintaining its parks. So, officials believe the cap needs to go.

Filby Williams said the cost for the updated levy is minimal and more about new development in Duluth helping grow the fund to better meet the needs of neighborhood parks
before they become centers for dangerous behavior, as Hanger reports below from Wednesday’s 9 p.m. news.

There’s nothing like a fall, sunny day at a local dog park.

“It’s just a fun place to bring him, and play and fetch,” said Michael Ronchak, a lifelong resident of Duluth who was visiting the dog park at Observation Park Wednesday. “It’s a great location, great view.”

The one-of-a-kind view at the park overlooks downtown Duluth, Canal Park, Park Point and Lake Superior, with the opposite view of Duluth’s hillside.

But there’s a problem. Observation Park is falling apart.

The basketball court looks abandoned, the light poles aren’t functional, there’s no grass for the dogs, but there’s plenty of grass growing out of the playground sand.

There was even a syringe sitting out in the open on the outdated equipment Wednesday.

“It’s pretty beat down. It could definitely use some care to make sure it’s well taken care of and ready for people to use,” said Dylen Nichols, who was visiting Observation Park’s dog park.

The park is one of Nichols’ first impressions of Duluth.  He just moved her from the Twin Cities area.

“Honestly, it just looks kind of old. Seems like it would be hard to play basketball game. I just think it could use a little more TLC … and some maintenance,” Nichols explained.

Filby Williams agreed and said city parks shouldn’t like or continue to be treated like that of Observation Park.  He said it goes against the values of the people who live in Duluth neighborhoods.

“Our residents tell us in so many ways that parks are unusually important to Duluthians, even more so than residents of other communities,” Filby Williams explained.

But Filby Williams said the current capped funding source of $2.6 million a year isn’t cutting it anymore with rising costs to operate, maintain and construct new development. He said the new levy proposal would fix that problem.

“We’re in an unusually profound strategic decision about whether we wish to continue underinvesting in an aspect of our community that is essential to our prosperity and flourishing,” Filby Williams said.

The proposed levy changes a yearly fixed dollar amount to a fixed percentage of a homeowner’s property value at .047 percent.  That change adds up to $94 a year for a home worth $200,000, or about $27 more a year than that homeowner is already paying for the current levy at $67.

But the city believes the biggest benefit is removing the $2.6 million cap so new development will grow the Parks Fund to better handle investments like new playground equipment and modern-day fun.

“Would you like there to be an even better dog park, or a sport court that also accommodates pickle ball, or a community garden that takes up some of the existing athletic field space,” Filby Williams suggested for a possibly future at Observation Park.

Filby Williams added that the investment is crucial to neighborhoods because he said empty, unusable parks attract problems for the neighborhoods they serve.

“So, reinvestment in a site like this can affect a social transformation as well as a physical transformation. It can turn a place that is a magnet for frightening, dangerous activities to a magnet for activities that are life-affirming, that bring people together, that help people stay healthy,” Filby Williams explained.

“I think they’re pretty important. I think [parks] make up a big part of the community, a good area for people to all gather and come together and hang out and play,” Nichols said.

If the levy referendum doesn’t pass Nov. 8, the current $2.6 million caped levy will remain indefinitely.

Click here to access a dedicated Parks Fund levy page on the city’s website with full details and answers to a list of possible questions you may have.

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