Your help is needed in keeping our parks looking better

Published 6:30 am Saturday, August 8, 2020

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Some local residents have said that keeping our local property taxes low is absolutely paramount.

As a property owner, getting a tax statement and knowing that I’m required to spend money on something for which I didn’t ask, can be a bit discerning.

A four percent levy increase on city taxes will increase the property taxes on a $100k home by just $18 and go to pay for services which are required to effectively run our community. Some areas, such as emergency services, cannot safely be reduced, so, when residents and business owners expect the lowest municipal property taxes in the region, it’s reasonable to assume that they’re willing to sacrifice in other areas, such as the library, streets, and parks, right?

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If not, please realize that something has to give; one cannot expect to get something for nothing, a lot for a little, and so forth. Along this line of thinking, streets don’t last forever and they don’t magically plow themselves. New library books and running the library don’t happen at no charge; and parks cannot be maintained via the stroke of a computer keyboard.

How does this translate into parks and related services? As was noted in a recent article, the city has around 1,600 acres of public lands, many of which require regular maintenance and greater degrees of care. These are the areas where many might frequent, play or hang out, including the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, Todd Park, Rotary Park, or any of two dozen other parks. Your park board discussed again this week where they might effectively reduce mowing and other care of many areas, including parks and flood acres.

Many flood acres, including some along trails, require mowing only once per year; however, our parks crew have taken it upon themselves to do their best with the equipment, staff, time and resources they have been provided. Some of this will inevitably need to change under budget strain.

Parks equipment, bridges, and infrastructure are also a part of this tax equation. The bridge on the bike path in Todd Park has been budgeted for replacement numerous times, only to be pulled due to more pressing needs. The boulevard on 18th Avenue North is a part of this taxing picture. This, too, has been a budgeted item, to clean out and fill in these boulevards with stamped concrete.

Can our facilities be improved or maintained outside of a minimal annual property tax increase? Some other resources  currently being tapped are grant dollars following approval through respective organizations. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources funding has provided for some improvements at the north playgrounds in Todd Park, where you’ll now find engineered wood chips under some other play equipment where there had been sand, and the sand moved primarily to the sand volleyball courts where it is/was sorely needed. We’ve been able to go above and beyond with the aid of Hormel Foundation-funded projects such as the poured-in-place surface (a step up from wood chips) soon to be under the playground nearest the soccer fields, a narrow concrete sidewalk surrounding it, and the acquisition of new scoreboards. The department and city appreciates all that they have done and continue to do for community needs.

There are numerous opportunities to volunteer, either through non-profits or on your own. Some others who recently have volunteered or will be volunteering or donations for parks amenities are as follows:

• A youth group from Faith Church of Austin last week weeded numerous public spaces, including planters and nine softball fields. Thank you!

• Dan Wilson, Scott Knabel, and Dan Ball regularly volunteer their time grooming the ballfields at Riverland. Thank you!

• Rotary Club of Austin will be funding the installation of electrical service at Rotary Park, inclusive of lighting the restrooms, the pavilion (plus outlets), and the basketball courts, PLUS, they’ll be funding a concrete slab near the basketball courts on which will sit a set of bleachers which they’ll be funding as well. Thank you!

What else can you do?

Ensure proper trash disposal by cleaning up after yourselves, and others if you see a trash mess which didn’t quite make it into a garbage can. Take along a plastic bag and sanitary gloves when walking to keep you safe in this process.

Adults, you could bring a string trimmer to your neighborhood park some evening and have at any long grass along fences, buildings, fire hydrants, or power poles. If you’re willing to do some volunteer trimming, please call so we can discuss logistics.

The landscaping just south of the municipal pool fence needs to undergo a tremendous amount of weeding.

Do have you other ideas to volunteer to assist? Give us a call.  Thank you for caring about Austin.