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How much is a park worth to you?

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outdoors Farmington, 55024
Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

Times are tough. There's no doubt about it. Every day, someone somewhere seems to be affected by the poor economy.

But are times tough enough that residents wouldn't support a bond referendum for the extra ball fields and soccer fields youth athletic teams are calling out for? Or is there a willingness to pay a little extra in taxes and upgrade aging parks facilities throughout the community?

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It's hard to know those kinds of answers unless you ask. And that's what the Farmington City Council plans to do. After a long discussion Monday, the council has agreed to conduct a community survey to help them decide whether to ask voters to support a bond referendum this fall.

Just how big that referendum would be and exactly what it would pay for has not been determined. In the very early stages of planning, council members first want to know if taxpayers think they would pay a slightly bigger property tax bill for parks facilities.

The hope is the answers would be flushed out through the survey. That, not only would they find out how residents feel about the prospect of a bond referendum, but that they'd learn what kinds of amenities residents would like to see added. From those answers, the parks and recreation commission could identify a list of priorities and a better estimate for the referendum.

Though council member Julie May argued the economy is not strong enough to ask voters to support a bond referendum, other council members want to let the voters speak through the survey.

May said she often gets phone calls from residents who ask her to keep the city's taxes to a minimum. With that in mind, May thought maybe the economy would change by 2012, and that it might be more appropriate to bring a referendum before the then.

Council member Christy Jo Fogarty, though, disputed that idea. A council member since 2003 - and a longtime proponent of parks and recreation programming in the city - Fogarty is frustrated by the lack of support parks programs have received in the past. The council voted against a referendum for a community center in 2006 and four months later they rejected another proposed referendum that would have covered many of the same things being considered in 2010. And, Fogarty added, the economy was much better back then.

"I hear every day, 'We need more for our youth and we're willing to pay for it,'" Fogarty said.

The down economy could mean the city would get attractive bids on projects, mayor Todd Larson said. Many companies looking for work are bidding lower these days, which could be helpful if a referendum were to pass in the fall and projects were planned for next year.

After more than an hour of debate, council members directed Farmington Parks and Recreation director Randy Distad to contact a survey company and develop a list of potential questions. Once that list is created, probably in the next few weeks, a draft will come before the city council for their approval. To keep the possibility of a fall referendum on schedule, the survey would be conducted in early May.

The cost is $12,000 for 400 responses, or $14,000 for 600 responses. Funds for the survey will come from park dedication fees developers pay when they start new construction projects in the community. Money in that fund can only be used for parks projects, but the parks and recreation commission has agreed the survey would be an appropriate use for that money.

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