Public-private partnership to fund parks, fields

Dennis DalmanNews, Sartell – St. Stephen0 Comments

by Dennis Dalman

The City of Sartell is going to borrow money from itself in order to fund several park-improvement projects and athletic-facility enhancements, and then the city, with help from private concerns, will pay itself back later, so to speak.

The lion’s share of the $1.2-million funding would go to improvements at Champion Field and Pinecone Central Park.

It might sound odd, but it’s called “interloan,” and – as several council members noted – it’s a bit hard, at first, to “wrap one’s head around,” although the city has used that form of paying for projects in the past.

The interloan funding mechanism was the prime topic at a recent Sartell City Council meeting. It was approved unanimously by the five-member council. The topic was discussed in exhaustive detail for about half of a council meeting that lasted three hours and 40 minutes. Many times during the meeting, council members asked for clarification of the funding mechanism because they considered it confusing and complicated, and even the city administrator acknowledged it is difficult to explain or to understand succinctly.

Interloan, basically, means Sartell will use much of its regional half-cent sales tax revenue (currently $1.8 million available) to fund park improvements and athletic-field upgrades. And then, eventually, during the coming years, that money is expected to be repaid mainly through the city’s park-district funds and through pledges made by private contributors.

The agreement is just the latest in a long-time public-private network (city, school district, private companies) to bring recreational amenities to Sartell.

The funding agreement adds up to about $1.2 million in costs. The City of Sartell will pay $734,500 for the project, but only about $635,000 of that amount will be new funding because the city already committed in the past about $100,000 for athletic-field improvements at Champion Field, which is part of the overall project. The city’s share, mainly from half-cent sales-tax revenue, would be paid back from a combination of park-district funds in the coming years, as well as private pledges raised through a donation drive by the Pinecone Central Park Association and the Sartell Youth Baseball Association.

Sartell City Administrator/Financial Director Mary Degiovanni told the council members even though all of the sales-tax money used for the project would be repaid, the council has the option to not insist upon that and that upcoming sales-tax funds and repaid funds could be used for a project or projects that the council sees, in future years, as necessary.

The pay-back would take about four years from ongoing park-dedication funds but up to 20 years total for private pledges because some of the pledges are extended over that period of time.

The projects

The following is a list of the projects and improvements approved by the city council at its Oct. 23 meeting, as provided in written form in the council agenda provided by the city administrator. The first four parks’ improvements can be realized with park-dedication funds currently or soon to be available, Degiovanni said.

Wilds Neighborhood Park: $30,000 of park-district funds to replace the existing basketball court with a new court surface and convert existing courts to green space with soccer goals added.

Huntington Park: $50,000 of park-district funds to add irrigation, to screen the water tower and to add shade trees and – perhaps – to construct an open-ended park shelter.

Northside Park: Up to $15,000 of park-district funds to convert existing tennis courts to green space and remove a retaining wall that is in very decrepit shape.

Watab Park: Resurfacing of courts, playground improvements and possibly wading-pool repairs and a new pool-house shelter. This could cost up to $150,000 or more depending on what is decided as needed. The council, at the Oct. 23 meeting, authorized Winkelman Construction to come up with a plan for the shelter.

Sauk River Park: Staff studies are underway as to how to add amenities to this park, hopefully with some possible future state grants.

Champion Field and Pinecone Central Park: A grant application on behalf of Champion Field improvements was not successful, so the city and private concerns will have to totally pay for the improvements. This project will take the lion’s share of funding – mainly a combination of city and private funds.

The improvements include making two athletic fields “playable” by adding good, drainable dirt (to be obtained from soil excavation at the new Sartell High-School site), a batters’ cage and many other improvements. The total cost is $1.2 million.

Two guest speakers explained to the council the specific needs and related project plans for Champion Field and Pinecone Central Park, the latter’s main project being the soil-filling to make two intermediate fields there in playable condition. The speakers were Jeb Meyer of the Sartell Baseball Association and Jason Mathiasen of the Pinecone Central Park Association.

Both of those parks and their amenities were made possible by periodic public-private partnerships among the city, businesses, the school district, in-kind services and thousands of hours of volunteer labor.

Cost split

For the Champion Field and Pinecone Central Park projects, private donations are expected to total $555,000, plus another $10,000 from a Minnesota Twins grant for a total of $565,000.

The balance of the $1.2 million ($635,000) will come from the City of Sartell. That amount includes $100,000 (park funds, water fund, sales-tax revenue) previously approved by the council for Champion Field, $80,000 from the regional-park fund, $48,000 from the Park District 4 fund (Sartell has five park districts), and the rest from the interfund money from the half-cent sales-tax revenue.

The city will be repaid over time by the private funds mentioned above, mainly pledges committed by businesses and organizations and $120,000 from the Sartell-St. Stephen School District.

For the 2017-18 projects, the following are the amounts of private and/or organizational cash and in-kind donations that will be used in that construction year:

School District $120,000; Design Electric $50,000; St. Cloud Orthopedic $5,000; Gilleland Chevrolet $26,500; Great River Bowl $1,000; Sartell Baseball Association $25,000; Minnesota Twins grant $10,000.

The balance of funding will come in later through donations and park-dedication funds.

contributed photo
This is a bird’s-eye view of the baseball fields at Sartell’s Pinecone Central Park. The fields attract thousands of local and out-of-town players every ball season, bringing revenue to the city, not to mention lots of fun and excitement to the players and spectators.

Author: Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

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