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Nisswa Lake Park funding sources debated

Whether the development of Nisswa Lake Park is being funded with taxpayer dollars was questioned Wednesday, March 19, during open forum at the Nisswa City Council meeting.

Mayor Brian Lehman said the city is using park dedication fees, not tax levy money, toward park development, as well as grant funds and donations.

Joe Lanz, a former city council member, reminded the council of a letter former mayors and council members presented to the council in 2009 proposing that no city funding be used for the proposed 2.1-acre park off Hazelwood Drive on Nisswa Lake.

The council agreed in 2009 not to use city funds to buy or develop the park, Lanz said, noting he was recently surprised to see that the project does include the city of Nisswa as a funding source.

To answer, Lehman said he believed the council’s 2009 3-1 vote referred to a city option to buy revenue bonds to help pay to buy the park property. Rather, he said funding to buy the park included money raised by the Friends of Nisswa Lake Park group ($90,000), donations ($300,000 from Arnie and JoAnn Johnson) and a grant ($500,000 DNR Legacy Amendment grant).

After relatively no work on the park project for the past three years while Highway 371 improvements occurred, including infrastructure work, the park project remains in the planning and development stage.

The next stages do include city park dedication fees approved for use before 2009, Lehman said, which total $37,500.

Developers pay the city park dedication fees when they develop property. The fees don’t come from the city tax levy, and they are collected to pay for park projects.

“The Friends of Nisswa Lake Park will do what they can to bring funds to the city to help pay for the park,” Lehman said, adding he didn’t believe Lanz was accurate in saying the Friends of Nisswa Lake Park would provide all funds for the park with no further funds coming from the city.

“I will have to look at it and the Park Commission will have to take a look at that,” Lehman said. “There are lots of things the city is doing and the money spent has been spent appropriately.”

Lanz said he was concerned with phase 3, which requires $500,000 with the city listed as the first funding source. Lehman said the city is requesting that amount from another DNR Parks & Trails Legacy Grant.

“For the planning phases we’ve had there was money already allocated and now we’re tapping into that money,” Lehman said,

Planning and design phase money so far has included $12,600 paid to Short Elliott Hendrickson engineering firm for planning documents. That was paid for with $6,400 from a joint powers agreement with the DNR, which owns 3.7 acres of adjacent property for a public access and fishing pier; $2,000 from the Initiative Foundation; and $4,200 from city park dedication fees.

The city recently received a $10,000 grant from the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnership for park planning and design that will go toward a $16,630 cost for the University of Minnesota Center for Rural Design to work on the project. The remaining $6,630 will come from an existing Initiative Foundation grant of $1,500, and from city park dedication funds of $5,130.

When asked by another resident, Lehman said when Nisswa Lake Park is built, there will be city cost to maintain it.

“I can’t tell you what the council will do,” Lehman said. “There’s a Park Commission that looks at these issues. There’s a council and every two years the council can change.

“I will tell you that if all goes well, the plan to get the funds through Legacy money and matching with funds raised through Friends of Nisswa Lake Park, I hope the city won’t pay at all.”

Residents Fred Heidmann, Harold Kraus and Paul Withers also spoke during the open forum segment of the meeting about Nisswa Lake Park. Heidmann said there should be more investigation into the issue, and whether the Friends of Nisswa Lake Park should reimburse the city for park dedication funds used toward the project.

Kraus was a city council member in 2009 who was opposed to any city taxpayer funds going toward any phase of the park.

Withers supports the park project.

“I think you’re doing a great job. I think the Nisswa Lake Park is the best thing that’s happened to this city and it needs to happen as soon as possible.

“Let’s stop living in the past and move on,” Withers said. “We need to move forward and all get on board.”