ROCHESTER, Minn. - Besides voting for elected offices this November, Rochester residents will have to decide whether they want to raise their property taxes to pay for city parks.
Rochester's park system is made up of about 100 parks, has more than 100 miles in trails, and spans more than 4,000 acres.
"The parks and recreation system throughout Rochester has suffered in many ways from a lack of investment," Rochester Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman said.
When Rochester Parks and Rec made a master plan back in 2015, it was clear funding was needed. The plan identified more than $80 million in improvements, whether that be addressing aging infrastructure or bringing amenities to the community that residents have asked for.
That's why on Nov. 3, Rochester voters will be faced with a property tax levy on the ballot. Widman said voting yes will help the parks system.
"A yes vote would mean an additional $2 million per year would be allocated for park improvements, and that money could also be used for operations," Widman explained.
It would also increase property taxes for Rochester residents. It's estimated the average residential homeowner would pay an additional $33 per year.
Widman said this long-term funding mechanism would allow the city to make improvements that are long overdue.
Come November, it will be in the hands of those who live here.
"We're getting increasing comments and feedback from our residents that they would like to see these changes," Widman said. "And so that's the main reason we put this out to the voters so they can weigh in and help in deciding the future of the parks and recreation system here in Rochester."
Widman tells KIMT News 3 this vote and discussion are very timely. Participation at the parks and trails has increased dramatically during the pandemic. At the same time, the department has faced a budget cut.
Widman said either way, there will be tough decisions on how to prioritize funding.