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June 2017

Report: St. Paul Parks and Recreation maintenance could use a boost

By FREDERICK MELO | fmelo@pioneerpress.com | Pioneer Press
PUBLISHED: June 15, 2017 at 8:05 pm | UPDATED: June 15, 2017 at 8:07 pm

Add up all the St. Paul Parks and Rec Centers, from their roofs to their boilers, and add in park trails, zoo facilities and basketball courts, and what do you get?

The sum total is 13 million square feet of built space owned and managed by St. Paul Parks and Recreation. In an ideal world, that $600 million in physical assets would receive somewhere in the vicinity of $10 million in routine annual maintenance, according to a new report from national consultants.

For the city of St. Paul, that’s an $8.5 million problem. The city’s property tax levy raises about $1.5 million annually for basic facilities improvements, such as asphalt upkeep and roof repair. State bond funds sometimes cover one-time projects, such as a new seal habitat at the Como Zoo, but the city is still looking at a $57 million backlog in deferred maintenance projects in the current year alone.

And if the $8.5 million gulf between what the city actually spends each year on Parks and Rec maintenance and probably should spend accumulates over time, it will add up to $377 million over 30 years. That’s a lot of leaking roofs.

And those costs don’t include new facilities or major upgrades to keep up with the times.

Those are the findings of a new Parks and Recreation Asset Management and Feasibility Study, which was assembled for the city by national municipal consultants Ameresco.

“We’re in good shape right now,” Parks and Rec Director Mike Hahm said in an interview. But looking long-term, he said, “we have challenges that we need to solve.”

The consultants said that from a maintenance perspective, Parks and Rec is doing relatively well at managing its physical infrastructure compared to other cities its size. Citing client privilege, they declined to discuss how particular cities have fared in their analysis.

“Stewardship, and the level of investment … has been better than most municipalities that are comparable,” Tim Dettlaff, general manager of Ameresco, said in an interview.

But that doesn’t mean St. Paul is out of the woods. Out of four categories — good, fair, poor and critical — the department’s assets are in “fair” condition, on the verge of “poor.”
In the report, buildings tended to land firmly in the “fair” range, while kiddie tot lot playgrounds and athletic courts were rated as “poor.”

Weighing down the average, the city’s trails were rated as “critical.”

City council president Russ Stark called the report a “mixed bag” and pointed to the city’s position relative to other cities as a bright spot. He noted, however, that reliable funding streams cover no more than 15 percent of maintenance costs.

“There’s a stark contrast between those two facts,” he said.

“Maybe we need to stop buildings things and start maintaining them,” said council member Jane Prince.

In a separate but related 62-page report, the Trust for Public Land analyzed potential funding streams for ongoing parks maintenance and found that a quarter-cent sales tax would generate $9 million annually, which would more than cover the unmet maintenance costs.

“This option is highly unlikely and without precedent for a Minnesota city,” at least when it comes to parks funding, the report states.

Other options include increasing property taxes, lodging taxes, food and beverage taxes or a soda tax.

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