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UPGRADING THE PARKS: Rochester residents to vote on $2 million dollar referendum

Rochester's Silver Lake Park

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) - Rochester parks are seeing a huge jump in visitors this summer, but some are in need of improvements.

Monday night, the Rochester City Council unanimously agreed to put this question on the ballot this fall: is a new referendum to improve parks in Rochester worth the property tax increase needed to fund it?

Councilman Shaun Palmer says a recent survey showed support for parks in Rochester.

"Last year we had $1.2 million extra and we gave it to the parks," Palmer said. "We improved the tennis courts, the track, that shelter over there and were able to do something in each one of the wards."

The city hopes to do more with the park system it already has in place.

"It's gotten old and in the last 15 years we haven't funded it properly," said the councilman of Rochester's 5th ward. "This will guarantee $2 million at a cost of about $36 for a $200,000 house in Rochester."

The increase in property tax is a burden one homeowner is willing to bear.

"Absolutely. I think parks are important. They're a free resource for everyone in the city," said Rochester resident Devon Hugdahl. "Being a homeowner, I think that's a good use of my money."

Money might be tight these days but with the pandemic, parks are showing an increase in traffic. It shows how vital they are to the community.

"We use the bike trails a lot," Hugdahl said. "We've been out to Quarry Hill quite a bit."

The councilman assures residents there are projects the money could go toward.

"We have two pools that should be redone. We have some tennis courts. We have waterpark areas where they want splash pads in each one of the wards," Palmer said. "They want to upgrade the trail system in Rochester. There's a lot of needs in Rochester."

But also a lot of parks.

"Oh, lots," Hugdahl said. "I've been trying to talk them into going over to Indian Heights but we haven't gotten over there yet. We're so new we haven't gotten to explore very much but everything looks interesting."

The measure aims to protect water quality and natural areas, conserve trees and wooded areas, as well as improve park safety and access for people with disabilities.

A parks and rec plan back in 2016 identified $80 million of potential improvements to the park system in Rochester.

While $2 million a year is not able to fix everything, it is a start.

Alex Tejada

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