Wary of its price tag, East Grand Forks City Council members asked city staff to break a plan to renovate a waterfront park into more financially manageable pieces.
Parks and Recreation Superintendent Reid Huttunen plans to present to the council next week a $400,000 plan to renovate, in 2021, parts of LaFave Park and ask for formal approval to apply for a grant that could pay for about 75 percent of that figure. It’s a significant step back from a $1.6 million plan that also would have been largely grant-funded.
The larger-scale plan, which sprang from city leaders’ hope to lure Gov. Tim Walz there for Minnesota’s annual fishing opener, would plant dozens of new trees, replace some walkways with grass, construct a new parking lot and rebuild a boat launch into the Red River near the park’s northwest corner. City staff members planned to ask for a grant from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission that would, they hoped, pay for about 75 percent of that project, which would have left the city responsible for about $400,000.
But some council members on Tuesday balked at that figure, which means Huttunen and City Administrator David Murphy are working to present the scaled-down version before the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday.
“It’s a beautiful project, don’t get me wrong,” said Council member Dale Helms. “I’d really like to see something be done, but to spend that kind of money on something that, we don’t know that every spring could be wiped out ... and we got all these roads and everything else that needs to be fixed. I’m really concerned about the dollar amount.”
The $400,000 plan Huttunen is drafting wouldn’t include the new boat launch. City leaders are aiming to wrangle money for that from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which, Council member Marc DeMers said Tuesday, had committed years ago to replacing it.
“They say in life you don’t deserve a lot, but we do deserve that,” DeMers said. “This is the DNR’s responsibility. They promised that we were going to be funded for that and it was going to be put in. I think we should be more vocal about that and we should talk to whoever we need to, whether it’s our legislators or whomever.”
City leaders don’t necessarily plan to abandon the renovations that don’t make it into the smaller version of the plan. Instead, they’re aiming to break the project into chunks they could pay for over a period of years.
“I sure like the idea of picking off our highest priorities, such as the boat launch area, and zeroing in on that and then taking it in steps,” Mayor Steve Gander said. “I can’t see that high dollar for something like this all at one time.”
The city’s financial contribution to whatever plan it ultimately devises would come from its general fund reserves, City Administrator David Murphy told the Herald. The city might hike property taxes to replace whatever money it spends from those reserves. The $400,000 the city would have spent under the original plan would have meant an 8 percent property tax hike, assuming they opted to replace all of that money in a single year.
If council members allow them to apply for it, city staff don’t expect to hear back about the grant until this winter. They wouldn’t be able to spend the grant money until the fiscal year ending in 2021, which, in Huttunen’s estimation, means the first wave of LaFave Park renovations wouldn’t be able to begin until 2021 at the earliest.