Mayor Whalen on Three Rivers Park land acquisition: “It’s not going to cost us anything.”

Minnetrista is allowing Three Rivers Parks District (TRPD) to take valuable revenue generating parcels of land off the city’s tax rolls without disclosing to public officials what the long term fiscal impact is on the city. If a government entity, like TRPD, wants to purchase land it must get permission from the local government in whose jurisdiction the land resides. The reason being once the land is purchased it stops being taxable and will no longer generate revenue for the city, county or school district. Once the revenue is lost taxes increase on all city property owners to cover the loss.

Retreat Drive Three Rivers AcquisitionI attended a Minnetrista Planning Commission meeting recently where there was an agenda item on TRPD acquiring a 17 acre parcel intended to preserve a small section of shoreline on Little Long Lake. In the background information provided to the Commission there was no mention of any fiscal impact to the city, county or school district. It was also clear, during the course of the meeting, that the fiscal impact was not going to be shared with the Commission. I had researched this parcel’s property tax information and, as the discussion was winding down, shared the fact it was generating over $16,000 per year in revenue (approx. $4K city; $7K county; $5K school district).

I also shared the fact this parcel is zoned Agricultural so the probability of the land use changing over the next several decades is extremely low, if not zero, given it can’t be subdivided. For all intents and purposes this parcel will continue to be undeveloped with just the single existing dwelling on the property. One must ask what benefit the community gets by taking this property off the tax rolls and transferring ownership to TRPD when the land use will not change.

Retreat Drive Three Rivers AcquisitionEarlier this year TRPD requested approval from the city to purchase another 56 acre parcel on Halstead Drive for a future regional trail. Again, no mention of any fiscal impact to the city, county or school district. In fact, at the July 16, 2018 City Council meeting where this was discussed, Mayor Whalen actually stated “It’s not going to cost us anything.” The background information given to council members also neglected to mention the large size of the parcel. This item was put on the consent agenda hoping it would pass without a discussion.

Disclosing important information regarding these transactions is critical to public officials making decisions, whether it be the Planning Commission, Parks Commission or City Council. Taxpayers are entitled to know what the full impact of these decisions are. Pretending governmental entities can gobble up valuable parcels of land and “It’s not going to cost us anything” is naïve at best, and at worst flat out dishonest. We need full disclosure and transparency on these matters and we also need to make sure TRPD is accountable for returning unused land back to the city tax rolls. I support our parks and trails but, like anything else, we can’t make good decisions without all the facts.

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