The skate park should be in a community park, not a neighborhood park. And Old Memorial Park is the best location for it.

I’ve taken a few photos the past week or so of the sites being considered for a skate park. One of them that appears to be a leading contender among PRAB members: the northeast corner of Washington Park at 8th and Union.

Washinton Park, 8th and Union Washington Park - aerial view Park development guidelines Park development guidelines - skate park

But Washington Park is a neighborhood park, not a community park, defined by the City of Northfield’s Park System Master Plan (chapter 3) as serving “a broader purpose than neighborhood parks. Focus is on meeting community-based recreational needs, as well as preserving unique landscapes and open spaces. ”

The Master Plan’s Facility Development Guidelines clearly show that a skatepark is inappropriate for a neighborhood park and instead should be located in a community park or athletic complex. (Northfield has 6 community parks: Ames, Bridge Square, Babcock, Memorial, Oddfellows, and Riverside Lions. And it has 3 athletic complexes: Sechler, Sibley Soccer Fields, and Spring Creek Soccer.) Given the close proximity of that corner of Washington Park to the houses at 8th and Union (see aerial map), it doesn’t seem an appropriate location.  Skateparks can generate a fair amount of noise.

Page 28 of Chapter 3 of the Master Plan’s discusses the location of the skateboard park, and includes a table of the pros and cons:

Skateboarders’ interests were represented by The Northfield Skateboard Coalition during the public process. The group currently has a proposal and design concept for a new skate plaza that would serve their needs. The desired size of the facility is 12,000 to 15,000 s.f. Access to nearby parking, bathrooms, drinking fountain, vending machines, benches, picnic tables, shady areas, and grassy areas for sitting is also desired. A facility of this size would have a capacity of up to 200, although daily use would be less, for this facility to get built, the constructors would have to request kitchen and bath remodeling online, for a faster and easier construction.

A key positive aspect of the skateboard park is that it would serve an age group not always interested in other forms of outdoor recreation. The advocates also point out the importance of the social aspect of the activity, underscoring that location matters for facility success.

The importance of selecting a location for this type of facility that addresses the needs and concerns of the user group, along with those of the larger community, should not be underestimated. To that end, and after much discussion, the PRAB concluded that the facility is best located in a community park, with Ames, Memorial, and Babcock Parks being candidate sites.

The PRAB also concluded that a separate public process was necessary to adequately consider the issues from various perspectives and select the site that best balances the interests of the various stakeholders. To aid that process, the following table identifies the opportunities and limitations of each of the sites currently being considered.
Park Master Plan pros and cons for skate park location

Considering the list of pros and cons for Old Memorial Park, I think it’s a much better choice than Ames or Babcock.  And the constraints listed for Memorial “surrounding residential properties (i.e., noise,
traffic, security concerns, etc.)” and “loss of general open space” are really minor issues.

Look at these photos:

Old Memorial Park Old Memorial Park Old Memorial Park Old Memorial Park
Old Memorial Park is a huge park.  Yes, the open space is one of its assets.

North side of Old Memorial Park North side of Old Memorial Park North side of Old Memorial Park
But there are a number of places where a skate park could be ‘tucked’ into the park without affecting the open space or the neighbors. One spot seems ideal: the north side of the park, just below the sand volleyball court (photos above).

Old Memorial Park aerial viewThere is only one house nearby and it’s not that close. See the aerial view with my arrow pointing to it (right). And the night I took these photos, I met the homeowner who said that that would be a much better location than out in one of the open spaces.

DSC08492 DSC08494 DSC08495 DSC08498
Other smaller spots are possibilities, too.

Old Memorial ParkI don’t have any skin in this game.  But now that the City has the skate park equipment and the Union of Youth has the money to put towards salt lake city ut concrete sealing services, it’s time to get this done.

I’m fine with a temporary location this year at Riverside or Babcock. But I think Old Memorial Park is the best permanent location for the skatepark.

Let the discussion continue here. (I’ve closed comments on the Feb. 25 blog post, Where should the Union of Youth skateboard park be located?)

270 thoughts on “The skate park should be in a community park, not a neighborhood park. And Old Memorial Park is the best location for it.”

  1. David,

    I’d agree with others that characterizing the skate park as a ‘gift’ seems incorrect. What I see as the most troubling part of this characterization is it misses the point that this is a community good. It has been purchased by one party (the citizens of Northfield) for the benefit of that same party. The skate park is open to all citizens. It is something we’ve decided to buy for our common use. Now as with every other community good it will not get equal use by everyone. There are plenty of streets getting plowed in Northfield that I will never drive on, books being purchased for the library that I have no interest in reading, firetrucks whose services I hope to never need. But they are open to me if I want to take advantage of them. They are things we’ve purchased collectively to improve our collective lives.

    What has been ‘earned’ through persistent effort is not a skate park. It’s the acknowledgement by the community that this group young people is actually part of the community. That their desires and values are part of ‘our’ desires and values. Do they deserve this enfranchisement? Has it been earned? Yes. Is this a gift? I would hope we see it as our recognition of a previously overlooked obligation.

    1. Nicely stated. I’ve been trying to figure out how this is any more gift-like than any other investment in things that members of the community want. I’m unlikely to use a skate park, but it strikes me as a fairly obviously reasonable example of the sort of thing towns and cities do with their budget to try to create a better environment.

  2. “Gift” may not be the right word, but I think I understand where David is coming from. The fact is that the Skateboard Coalition asked for a location, and they did not ask (as far as I know) for a dime of funding. The $60,000 of funds were allocated before any specific design for a skatepark was devised — and thus long before anyone could know how much it would cost to build it. I suspect that it’s highly unusual to allocate funds that have not been requested and for which there is no budget.

    From that point of view, I can see why this might be an awkward precedent. Council could have awarded the location and indicated its willingness to contribute, but withheld any allocations until the design was done. That wouldn’t have changed the outcome (and would not have delayed the project), but it would have avoided setting a precedent for funding projects before they even have demonstrated the level of need.

    1. I think I like “figure out your budget, then design something within it” better than “make up what you want, then find out whether you can afford it”.

      If they start coming up with plans, and then having to argue over whether the plans have acceptable costs, this will drag on forever. If they get a pretty clear budget (and as I understand it, roughly half of it corresponds to money that people raised for the skate park, which the city has sort of borrowed since), they can make plans based on that and move forward.

      1. I’m sure their are scholars writing about how you judge the funding of municipal projects and I am definately not one, but here are my two cents… I would say that one metric to look at is existing infrastructure. Bikers have alot of trails, but their are alot of bikers so that makes sense. There is a Y, but they have alot of members so they might need a new building. There are a decent amount of skateboarders but no skatepark, so a park (done right) would be a priority in my opinion. Skateboarders can of course skate where ever bikers can, but go look at the civil war memorial in the central square. The edges are caked with wax and chipped from grinding. How sad, this is a very old memorial. Without infrastructure skating can be pretty destructive (I know this first hand). Without pointing to a dedicated skatepark and telling them to “Go there!” they will keep wrecking stuff like the civil war memorial and I dont really blame them, they have to skate somewhere (hey, thats the mindset of a teenager). When a skatepark is built we can at least send them there, and if they keep wrecking private property I can call the police with a clear conscience.

    2. Seebs,

      What I am talking about is how much, if any, the City should contribute to a recreational activity, especially for a small subset of the population. The skateboarders want a facility so the city spends $60K for their specialized sport. The bikers want a bike path so we spend $250K to build a bike path. If I don’t draw a line someplace, everybody and anybody will come begging at the door.

      As a city council person, how do I decide if the new special interest lobby group of the day gets government money? What about the CAC which is trying to help people in need? Aren’t they more “deserving” than skateboarders?

      Is there a criteria for defining what is a “deserving” cause? If so, what is it? If not, shouldn’t there be one?

  3. David: First, I think you need to differentiate between the two 30K amounts which you insist upon defining as “gifts”.
    The 30K from the PRAB is at their discretion, out of their funds; would you deny their right to award $$ from their dedicated fund?

    Second, some years ago a parent of a special needs child started a fund for a playground to be accessible to those children, and there was a city wide support group, AND city dollars dedicated to building that park which I believe is called “Everybody’s Park”. It was absolutely a great project, and it supported a subset of the population, which had every right to be able to use a park facility.

    Any park dedicated to a particular use is dedicated to a subset of the population; the question being what size of that population determines it to be a “subset”?

    And what standard…numerical size of a “subset” … would eliminate that group from the right to have a park facility for their use?

    Sorry … 🙂 … but I think the Scrooge hat still fits; I hope you don’t let it linger on your head after January 1, 2013 ….

    1. Kiffi,

      I would be interested to hear your opinion, and opinions from others, on when the Council should allocate money for various request/projects/expenditures.

      As I have repeatedly said on the Streetscape monies, there doesn’t seem to be any standard at all.

      If the skateboaders can get a $60K “investment”, should the city consider “investing” $500,000 in the Y? The Y is going to serve a much larger population than the skateboarders; they have been patiently waiting a long time; they have raised some money on their own.

      We are going to spend $500K to build a bike path under Highway 3. We spent $250K on a short bike path on the east side of the river.

      How and where am I suppose to draw the line on the Council?

      1. You, as all councilors, will have to draw each “line” as you see fit … after evaluating the worth of the project to the community, or a ‘segment’ of the community.

        The most unfair position, IMO, would be to try to develop a single measure (other than the one stated above) by which to evaluate the worth of ALL projects.

      2. Thank you Kiffi. I couldn’t agree more with your comments. Sometimes it is just nice to see our Council do (IMO) the right thing…the nice thing…whatever you want to call it.

      3. Kiffi,

        You and I disagree on this point. There has to be one measure to judge all projects. Otherwise, how can the Council allocate limited resources?

      4. OK, David… what would you suggest that “one measure” that could be used to judge all projects be?

  4. Kiffi,

    The measure is an equation. On one side is always the cost. On the other side, is what the city gets for those costs. It is not much different from running a business.

  5. David,
    An equation isn’t actually a measure. A measure is how you calculate the value associated with one side of that equation or another. If we assume that the left side is measured in direct dollar expenditures by the city then we’re left with wondering how you calculate the right side of the equation. That’s the measure I’m interested in understanding how you’d calculate.

    In the business world (at least for publicly traded companies with a fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder value) companies take a very simplified view of how to calculate the both sides of these equations. They only consider the immediate and easily extrapolatable monetary value involved. So for example when Google decides to minimize it’s taxes by funneling it’s money through off-shore banks it only considers the actual costs involved (money saved in taxes) and near term financial implications (chances that negative backlash from it’s clients results in lowered revenue). It does not directly consider the moral costs/benefits of this action, nor does it consider the long term (decades?) possible impact of tragedy of the commons type losses (e.g. if all large companies follow this practice will it eventually lead to the weakening of the U.S. economy).

    In contrast individuals and governments are usually in the business of maximizing something other than easily measured ‘annual profits’. Their goals are more abstract. Things like “maximizing my happiness” or “improving the welfare of its citizens”. And they often need to consider how decisions play out over lifetimes and generations (where monetary values become even murkier). While part of these measures often involve counting dollars, the actual monetarily quantifiable part of the measure is only one piece of the equation. Merely one element that plays into the actual metric concerned.

    So if the actual goal of the city government is something like “increasing the welfare of it’s citizens” (where by welfare I mean something broader than just money currently in their pockets) we’re left with a question of how one quantifies that. Or at least how one weighs alternatives in the absence of any direct quantitative measure.

    So the question I would ask is how you do this balancing. For example if you were asked to choose between spending $30000 on the library or $30000 on a skate park (the left side of your equation is the same in both cases so the question is how you measure the right sides relative to each other) how you would come up with an answer? What additional information would you need? What factors would you consider and which would you not?

    1. Economists and others have tried to measure how much satisfaction a person would theoretically derive from any of a number of options when they face a decision. They use the term “utility” for this. The measurement of “utility”, unfortunately, is quite tricky and context-dependent.

      It cannot be done with dollar values. Mostly because one’s view about any amount of money varies with one’s own level of wealth. I value $5 differently than both my 19-year-old and my 11-year-old. And, likely, differently from someone who makes half or double my salary.

      You can ask individuals to give some sort of numerical rating to the overall goodness of different options, but it turns out that people aren’t very good at this–their answers vary a lot over short periods of time, and change if the same question is asked in slightly different ways.

      NOW, add to this the problem that city councilors have to balance the utilities of different constituents. So, skateboarders likely have a very high utility to have a park built–(some) neighbors near the proposed sites have very high negative utilities. Some people don’t care. Some have slight utilities for the project. How does one take everyone’s views into account? How do different constituencies’ views get weighted?

      I totally agree with David, it would be great to have a simple or even a complex equation that would do this–but I very much doubt one exists.

      1. Kathie- I think you summed this up pretty well. We are talking about subjective things here, but trying to analyze them through objective formulas. I’m no mathmatician, but I’m not sure that is possible. Perhaps Paul Zorn could give us some insight on that.

    2. Sean, Kathie, John,

      I am looking for some ideas on how to determine how the subjective factors should be weighed. How should the council go about evaluating whether it should spend $60K on a skateboard park or $250K on a short bike path?

      1. David:
        I still think you should more formally retract your comment about this being a “gift”; even the most wasteful of spending is not a gift if it is being used for a City-owned facility. That said, I think your current question is very good. It seems like there are several points under which almost any capital expenditure should be considered:

        1. Does it provide a clear, provable economic return to the City? This is probably the item that matters most to you. The skate park probably does not. A completed Mill Towns’ Trail might, but I’m no expert on the matter. This one item is probably the most frequently cited to justify infrastructure giveaways to business parks and residential sprawl.

        2. Is it compatible with City plans, especially the Comprehensive Plan?

        3. Does funding (or not) of this item have a health or safety impact on the community? If there were an intersection of two city streets that was in need of a traffic signal and had experienced many crashes, there might be a meaningful safety issue in refusing to fund the signal upgrade. Likewise, if a facility will improve the wellbeing or health of residents, that should be considered. I believe the Skate Park does improve the health of participating residents, and alleviates safety concerns downtown by providing an alternate place to skate.

        4. Does it enhance the community image, values, or aesthetics? I believe the Skate Park could do this, by enhancing a fairly dead area of Riverside Park. Likewise, the Mill Town Trail connector improvements have certainly enhanced that area of the riverfront.

        5. Are outside funding sources available to mitigate the cost? For streets, the MSA fund and homeowner assessments are options that mitigate the City’s responsibility. For things like the Greenvale Ave TIGER underpass, the fact that $1 million is from the federal government makes that project significantly more viable. The City should consider the amount of external funding available.

        5a. Will the maintenance costs to the City negate the value of the outside funding?

        5b. If homeowner assessments are used, will the cost be unreasonably burdensome to the citizens?

        These items should be thought of in a balance. Funding water, sewer, and new city streets to pave over a cornfield does not improve health or safety, nor enhance community image, values or aesthetics. But if it’s compatible with City plans and has a clear, provable return on investment, it may be worthy of consideration.

        The TIGER grant (which if I recall correctly you opposed the City getting/using) would probably not hold up under this rubric if not for #5 — external funding. Considering the City’s obligation to be only $500k, its compatibility with City plans and enhancement of health and safety make it worthwhile.

        The Skate Park does not have a clear ROI, but it does very well on other points: it is compatible with city plans and long-identified parks needs, it has a health/safety impact on the community, and it enhances community aesthetics.

      2. Sean- These are good questions to ask about any direction the city government takes, but some seem hard to answer objectively. For instance-
        1. Does it provide a clear, provable economic return to the City?
        How does anyone measure every expenditure to see if it will do this? Some esthetic investments, such as the flower pots hung downtown during the summer, the expense of care of them, are important to me, but what dollar amount of return to the city can be directly attributed to the petunias? This would evidently fall under your question #4-
        4. Does it enhance the community image, values, or aesthetics?
        Now, in reference to the skate park, I think a monetary value could be placed upon savings of maintainence and damage to existing infrastructure by providing a specific facility for this activity.
        I guess I am glad I just get to be an armchair councilperson and not have to give direct accountability for my decisions. Perhaps the concept of trying to please every citizen of this city in every decision made is what appears to be inneficiency on the part of the council.

      3. John:
        No, many perfectly justifiable expenditures do not satisfy #1. I do not mean to say that all expenditures should meet all points. Rather, they should meet as many as possible, to the greatest extent possible. If they satisfy only one or two, they should do so exceptionally well and provably. As I said, my first impression would be that the Skate Park does not offer a clear, financial RO — but perhaps you’re right, that it may save wear and tear elsewhere. Even without the ROI, I think it’s worthy because of the several other points it does satisfy.

        All points are, of course, subjective. Still, separating the good an expenditure does or does not do helps us understand why we support or oppose it a bit more precisely than our initial instinct. In any case, the purpose of our elected officials is to be somewhat subjective; that’s why we elect one over the other.

      4. Sean- Yes, I agree. I think that our concept of plurality of representation in our government is still the best pattern. It may be a little messy at times, but I think we need the perspective of different people to provide a more accurate representation of the populace. Hopefully, those different perspectives do not increase polarisation in our city. And, I am behind the skate park all the way.

      5. I like Sean’s HO’s list. And the procedure it entails: Articulating a set of non-mutually exclusive principles, no single ones of which are mandatory. The more a proposal addresses of these principles, the higher funding priority it should receive. This procedure articulates the idea that there’s no one cut-and-dried way to assess priority, but also makes clear that there will be better and worse options.

      6. Sean, Kathie, John,

        Assuming that you think the skateboard park is a good use of taxpayer money (which you have all said), at what level would it have become a bad use of money – $90K, $120K, $180K?

      7. The city should prioritize around the traditional role of city government:

        Safety (Police and Fire)
        Insuring the availability of temporary economic relief to citizens in crisis.
        Parks and Recreation

        I don’t think ‘economic development’ as presently defined (departments, agencies, boards, etc.), should be the role of city government, except with regard to tax policy and zoning.

        I guess housing has become a function of city government because ‘the money is there’, but I think this function could be more effectively handled by a county or regional agency.

        Return on investment is a calculation best left to the private sector. The proper role of city government is to protect taxpayers by providing efficient service, not investment returns.

        Building a skateboard facility, at a modest cost within an existing park, would seem to be a proper use of city funds. But, as mentioned, it needs to be prioritized within the parks and recreation budget.

      8. David,

        Again, I don’t think there’s an objective algorithm to use here, where 60 K is ok but 60K = 2 isn’t.

        I think given the history of the issue, given that the kids got jerked around for so long by adult “gentry” in our community, that the money was well spent.

        A different amount, for a different purpose, without the users raising some funds on their own, etc etc would be different, and would elicit a different judgment. But in the end, no equations or algorithms can be given–it will always come down to human judgment.

      9. Typo in my last post. First sentencie should read:

        Again, I don’t think there’s an objective algorithm to use here, where 60 K is ok but 60K + or – 2 isn’t.

    1. Well then, I think you are just not seeing the black/white answer that you seek , David…

      I would say everyone who has commented in reply to you has offered their version of how an adult who has the responsibility may make a rational decision; I read the consensus as being there is no one, or hard cut, or clear formula answer for a decision on a park facility, which is providing for a system less quantifiable than a sewer connection.

    2. Kiffi,

      Given that there is no clear consensus on an answer, can I reasonably conclude that $0 is also an acceptable amount?

      1. David- I looked back over some posts, and I can’t find any opinions that state that we need to justify the $60K expenditure. There seemed to only be a question of where the city is going to get the $30K that they offered. I don’t think this is a money issue. This facility is being proposed to meet the needs/desires of a sub-set of our population, just as the bike path. If the users are raising some of their own funds, there is no threat to the welfare of the community, and the rest of the population is not coming out dead-set against it, then why not provide a skate park? It is not as if this is a transient group that will “grow up” and move on, thus eliminating the need. It seems clear, at least to me, that skateboarding is something adolescents contunue to grow into.

      2. John,

        I am sympathetic to skateboarders wanting a place to skateboard. But, I am concerned about the precedence of giving the skateboarders use of public land and money to pursue their recreational activity.

      3. David.
        Establishing parks, and putting facilities for recreation in them, is a proper function of city government. Parks serve all sorts of subsets of the population, from swing sets, to softball fields, to horseshoe pits, to benches. The popularity of the various park activities is constantly evolving, so additions (or deletions) of activities must be something that the council considers. I confess to not knowing what the current proposal specifically entails, but a skateboard facility in an existing park seems like a reasonable use of city funds, particularly since some of the funding is private.

      4. As I said, David, I did see a consensus … look for instance at the two comments after this: John George and Wm. Siemers.
        I don’t think anyone would find them to be wildly irrational or ‘spendthrifty’; they pretty much sum up a consensus…

        Your suggestion of 0$ is a painful insult to the skateboarders; I continue to insist that you answer why you would treat this group of kids differently than others, with different sports interests.

        Can you answer that?

      5. David, as a relative newcomer to mountain biking, I’m seeing a pattern repeated throughout the state that’s quite similar to the skateboard process here.

        In the early days, mountain bikers often used trails that were intended for hikers and of course, problems ensued, usually a) collisions; and b) erosion.

        The managers of the public lands have been figuring out that mountain bike trails can be created in a way to make them a) fun; b) erosion resistant; c) safe, ie, separate from hikers, birders, etc.

        The land managers’ decisions to create the trails most often depends on the willingness of a local club/group to partner with who’s willing to A) contribute labor to help build, maintain, and police them; B) contribute/raise money to offset the costs.

        When done right, the trails serve a public good, ie, public property/natural environment are protected while a healthful and popular recreational activity is supported that can’t easily be provided by private means. And best of all, there’s civic engagement and cost-effectiveness because a subgroup of users is expected to help maintain the asset in perpetuity.

        So while I think it’s fine to challenge the appropriateness of the amount of money that the PRAB and Council is putting towards the skatepark, I think the principles involved are sound.

      6. Do you have similar objections to other parks, or just this one?

        Here’s the thing. A lot of people do object specifically to skateboarders. And while you say that you are not singling them out, you have put a lot of time into saying things that make no sense unless we assume that you object to them getting $60k. And you’ve used a lot of very loaded language, like calling a city investment in a park facility a “gift”. (And you’ve kept saying $60k, even though several people have asserted that half of that money was in fact raised by citizens specifically to fund this project.)

        Now, you have a legal background, and when with someone with a legal background uses a lot of emotionally-laden terms, it’s usually a pretty safe bet that it’s intentional, and that it’s intended to affect how people think or feel.

        At which point, it’s not unreasonable for people to think that there’s some sort of underlying hostility to the skateboarders as such, because that’s a common motive, and there’s no other obvious explanation for why someone would characterize a single specific parks and recreation expenditure as a “gift”, even though no one is being given anything; the city retains ownership of its land and facilities.

        Basically, there’s a conspicuous absence here in your writing, which is shaped just about like the connection from motivation to action, and there’s a motivation which a whole lot of people have, and which people might feel reluctant to express because the conversation started out with several respected participants expressing some level of condemnation for that motive.

        And if you’d expressed some other motive and tied it together with other things, no one would notice that, but when there’s nothing on offer, and no real reconciliation between your writing on this issue and how you’ve approached other issues, people are likely to draw that inference.

        I think the problem here is: We think too much of your writing skills to imagine that you’ve somehow just happened to ineptly fail to state your case even though you have one.

  6. David,
    I’ll add my voice in as someone who is completely baffled by your statement that this is a precedent of any sort. Supporting citizens in their “use of public land and money to pursue their recreational activity” is exactly the sort of things cities have supported for centuries. What about the skate boarding is different in kind from all the other recreational activities support by the city through dedicated facilities on public land outlined in the posts above?

  7. Yes, we’re helping skateboarders pursue their recreational activities, just as the City has helped folks play basketball games at courts in parks, swim at a City pool, and swing on playground equipment. Moreover, we’re doing more. I spent significant time observing use of the temporary skateboard park this summer, and what that provided was a place for families to sit and watch their kids try out skateboards and for others to enjoy the skills skateboarders demonstrated. It was a community facility.

    Oddly, this discussion treats the matter of funding backwards. The City is not giving money to skateboarders; it is dedicating funding to developing a skateboard park for the citizens of Northfield. Skateboarders are giving money to the City. The Skateboard Coalition is raising and will be giving money to help the City develop that resource, and the Coalition’s work has, over the years, proven to be unselfish, benefiting future generations of youth in the community. We should be applauding and nurturing what has actually been happening.

  8. Here is my Scrooge response to your many comments.

    I’m still not convinced. If I were on the council, I would not have approved of the spending. It is the taxpayers’ money; and the skateboarders didn’t meet the burden of showing that they need it more than other worthy causes – like the CAC.

    I don’t think we should be raising the taxes for senior citizens on fixed incomes or taxing downtown business owners more so that a small subset of our population can enjoy their recreational activity.

    The skateboarders raised $23,000.00 for their own skateboard park. Let them use that. They are going to appreciate it more, and take better care of it if it is their own money. And, they are going to feel better about themselves and learn that responsible citizenship means not being a burden for someone else. Saying no is a win-win.

    We have to start drawing the line someplace or people are going to keep coming to the city to have them fund something that they can’t or won’t pay for themselves. Grant-giving is out of control at the federal level (witness the TIGER grant). I don’t want the city to go down that path.

  9. David,
    Are you opposed to playgrounds in general? If not why is this any different in your mind?

    One could imagine we could rely on girl scout cookie sales and the like to privately fund playgrounds.

  10. Sean,

    I’m not opposed to parks, trails, playgrounds, or any other kind of recreational activity. But, if the city has $60K burning a hole in its collective pocket, I would much prefer than the money go to the United Way, and let the United Way decide who is needy and deserving.

    1. David,
      In forming my previous question I wasn’t really trying to understand whether you liked parks in the abstract. So I’ll try to restate it in a way that gets more directly at what I’d like to know:

      Do you think the city should spend tax dollars on public parks?

      I’m thinking this is a pretty straight forward yes/no question. I can’t honestly tell from the previous discussion what your answer would be to this question. I look forward to hearing an answer. I think that will add clarity to the discussion.

    2. Sean,

      Yes. Tax dollars should go to public parks and other community space. But, it has to be in measured amounts for measured purposes.

      From all appearances, the City (council) does not have a method to evaluate either the amount of money being spent nor the quality of the project for which the money is being spent. For some constituencies, the city has become the charity of first resort.

      This gift to the skateboarders has pointed out the desperate need to develop a city policy regarding which constituencies should have access to the taxing power of the city, and in what amount. Consider this – if there are 60 dedicated skateboarders in this town, and we gave an equal amount of money to every citizen for their favorite recreational activity, the total bill for the city would be $20,000,000.00. That is unsustainable.

      1. David, I applaud your intention to form clearer policy on city expenditures. When you get around to that discussion on the Council, however, I hope you will do more careful financial analysis than you did in 61.2. The lifetime of the skate park is likely to be many years. An appropriate analysis would take into account that lifetime, the initial expenditures, the maintenance costs along the way. It will serve far more than 60 people.

      2. David,
        I’m glad you’re in favor of public funding of parks. Following up on what Jeff said let’s actually look a little closer at the numbers. The back of my envelope says the city is actually talking about spending $3k0 of tax money (half the cost was raised privately right?) and I’ll guesstimate that the lifetime of a skate park is about 10 years (anyone got better hard numbers?). So we’re talking about $3k/year for the benefit of 100 skateboarders (I’m going to round your 60 up since we’re both just pulling numbers out of hat). That’s $30/year per benefiting citizen (if we assume the only benefits to community are those that acrue directly to the individual skateboards which I don’t actually believe).

        For comparison the city spends $130k/year on athletic fields (not parks or ice rinks or pools; just the athletic fields). If we imagine that 4000 Northfielders use those parks annually (anyone got a better number?) then we’re spending $32/year per benefiting citizen for athletic fields right now.

        My numbers are clearly not exact and I applaud efforts to include analysis like this (with real numbers) as an element of the city decision making process. I think this is something you have been pushing for and I’m behind you on that (if not on other issues).

        But I think it’s pretty clear that your implication that the skateboard park costs are wildly out of line with the per-citizen recreational spending we’re already doing is simply wrong.

      3. David: you are constantly searching for what you term a “rubric” to measure the value of an expenditure…
        If the example you give in 61.2 is an example of how you would frame that “rubric” … or, construct a rationale … for decision making, the new council will be in a bad way as far as decision making processes.

        IMO, your refusal to directly answer, and , IMO, stubbornness in holding on to a POV which seems to have no logic but is just an expression of denial, does not bode well for any clear cut process, except that based on a personal bias toward general denial.

        I believe you have coached kids in chess skills for a number of years, and I assume this is at one of the schools? What if a principal had said to you we can’t keep the lights on for you to carry on this coaching process because I don’t think chess skills are anything but a “subset” of interest?

    3. David and Kiffi – maybe you could agree on a chess park!

      A 2002 report found that there were 18.5 million skateboarders in the world

      As of 2005, it is estimated that between 600 – 700 million people play chess in the world

      1. If we are going to branch off into a chess park, we need to consider what transpired at the National Chess Society’s meeting in Phoenix. As the attendees all began to gather in the Raddison’s lobby, there arose much bragging about their vasrious chess conquests. It was getting a little loud, so the manager came out and asked them to please go into the meeting room they had reserved. He said, “I just can’t have chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!”

      2. That reminds me of the story about the retired members of the United Mineworkers Local out of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who all signed up for a bus tour to the Florida Everglades where there had been discovered in an isolated area a population of some apparent prehistoric dolphins. On the appointed day, they boarded their tour bus, and headed south. Shortly after leaving Pennsylvania, and crossing into Maryland, they were pulled over by a Maryland State Police Officer, who upon investigation cited the tour operator for transporting miners across state lines for immortal porpoises!!

      3. Joe- I like the variant of that story that incorporates sedate lions, but we’d better not push our luck, here. Griff may run out of the Holiday spirit! (Or he might possibly run into more of it!)

      4. Tell you what. Let’s just use our imaginations a bit, and run through two scenarios.

        In one of them, we spend $60k on a skateboard park, which 60 people use to skateboard, while 600 people skateboard in their own homes.

        In the other, we spend $60k on a chessboard park, which 600 people use to play chess, while 60 people skateboard in their own homes.

        I put it to you that, thinking this through, you may find ways in which the former scenario plays out better than the latter. Specifically, it is perhaps relevant that it is extremely impractical for most people to maintain a skateboard ramp in their house or apartment, while chessboards are small enough that I sincerely doubt I’ve ever known anyone who didn’t have at least one.

        I would also point out that the number of “dedicated” skateboarders is not necessarily a good measure, as many people will pursue an activity depending on convenience, and a very large number of people live in places where there are no good facilities for skateboarding.

        Finally, one last relevant observation: Having observed teenagers and skateboard parks in the past, I can assure you that a skateboard park which attracts even a small number of healthy skateboarders will provide entertainment all summer for a very large number of teenagers. Skateboarders tend to be very active in summer, meaning they tend to not wear a lot of excess clothes, and I assure you our town contains a significant number of teens who will happily spend hours watching other teens be athletic and in some cases shirtless.

  11. Folks,

    I appreciate all of your comments. While my opinion seems to be different than the rest of yours, does everyone agree that we should have some kind of policy on these kinds of expenditures?

    1. Yes, I agree.

      It’s the specifics of what the policy should be where I suspect we would disagree (aka, “the devil’s in the details”).

      Policies inevitably derive from individual values, and I don’t expect those would ever be exactly the same for most any two people.

      That’s why, while I disagree strenuously with you on the overall worth of the skatepark, I agree there should be some framework for considering projects more systematically. So long as you understand that “more systematically” does not equate to “absolutely objectively” or “producing consensus.”

    2. David L,

      Yup, we should, by policy, do what we can to evaluate the quality of any proposed city (warning … here comes the I-word) investment. A good policy for such purposes should have some reasonable attributes:

      1. It should acknowledge that different investments a city might make can return value (ROI, if you like) in different “currencies”: money, quality of life, environmental protection, equity, aesthetics, safety, etc.

      2. It should acknowledge that comparing ROI in various currencies is an art (a political art, to some extent), not a numerical science. Some uncertainty is unavoidable.

      3. It should include numerical data and measures when — but only when — they’re available, reliable, and pertinent to the question. In many cases some or all of these bars will be too high to clear. Bogus or misleading calculations (like those in 61.2, which may have been proposed facetiously) are much worse than useless.

      What sort of policy would you, David L, propose? What sort of a (say) park project would pass your proposed policy?

    3. Paul,

      I like your ideas. Here is my initial thoughts:

      1. The cost is on one side of the equation.
      2. The relevant variables are on the other side of the equation.
      3. The relevant variables can be compared to each other.
      4. In the cases where the subjective variables are too difficult to determine, we assign values with a range.
      5. We assume some limits on the costs.

      Essentially, we have a large multi-variable matrix.

      As an example, we can compare spending $60K on the skateboard park against $60K for the CAC and see how they compare with each other.

      Essentially, we remove the “art” of spending by evaluating projects against each other to determine what we value the most and why.

      1. David.
        I think the ‘large multi-variable matrix’ might cause decision making to be very difficult if we are comparing proposed CAC expenditures to the proposed skateboard park expenditure. Why not compare the skateboard expenditure to another proposed expenditure within the parks and recreation budget? Start with the departmental budget and assume no increase. Can grass be cut less often in the parks? Reduced hours at the swimming pool? Cut staff and hire more temps, or organize more volunteers? And so on. Look to see if the money can be moved within the department budget before trying to compare expenditures for emergency human services with parks expenditures. It seems to me that your proposal, which is essentially an examination and critique of the very role of city government, has merit in the grand scheme. But on the practical, day to day level, it may just result in gridlock and diminished services.

      2. William,

        That makes sense.

        But, I think departments need to be compared against each other on a grand scale. For example, if the park board has $60K to give to the skateboarders, and the CAC is $60K short perhaps the park board has too much money, and the CAC has too little.

        I know that people worry about “gridlock” and “diminished services”. But, gridlock and diminished services are always going to happen. It is just a matter of figuring out where the line is drawn. And, I can’t see that the council has a line – $60K to the skateboarders, $500K to the trail under the bridge, $250K for a bike path you can’t even ride your bike upon, $500K for a parking lot remodel. We could have saved a lot of money if we had a little “gridlock” and “diminished service”.

        To make matters worse, the taxes that pay for these services are regressive. The taxes hit our poorest citizens the hardest. And, it is really hard on our (taxpaying) businesses which pay taxes at a much higher rate than homeowners.

      3. David: you said: “For example, if the park board has $60K to give to the skateboarders, and the CAC is $60K short perhaps the park board has too much money, and the CAC has too little.”

        You have always spoken about the necessity for city gov’t/depts to ‘live within their means’

        Each dept submits a budget to the Council and the Council approves that budget. Are you saying that the budget is NOT a guideline for performance within each city department? i.e., if someone comes up short just take it from somewhere else?
        How does that fulfill the basic goal of a budget process?

  12. David,
    Quit with the red herrings already… Comparing spending on parks (an established city function) to spending on the CAC (a worthy nonprofit, but not a city responsibility) is an unnecessary distraction from what could otherwise be a useful conversation about what we expect from and value about local government.

    It is certainly relevant to employ a rigorous process to allocate city funding across the various city functions, and you’ll probably find quite a bit of support for developing a clear(er) rubric for doing so. (It might not be as limited and literal as your rubric, but then you were elected to represent, not to dictate.) If you stick to the confines of your and the city’s responsibilities without speculating about what local nonprofits might or might not do with more money, you’ll have enough to do.

    As one of your new constituents, I hope once you have taken your seat, you’ll spend at least this much time and energy communicating directly with the citizens in your ward.

    1. Randy,

      Building a skateboard park for a group of ad hoc skateboarders can hardly be considered a city responsibility, even if it is couched in terms of “park development” or “investment”. I would much prefer to see the city supporting a group of needy Northfield citizens who have made their needs known through the CAC (or other groups like the Sertoma or Lions) then see us deal with ad hoc groups on an individual basis.

      1. Northfield citizens elected a city council and those council members voted to fund a skateboard park … that is the system. Now you will serve and can vote on issues as you see fit using whatever rubric you choose. But that rubric won’t limit other council people accept as a basis for argument. And it will have no lasting impact on future councils accepting as an example if your decisions appear particularly effective. Personally as far as the evils of aggressive government go, I think building a useful local amenity such as a skateboard park is the least of our worries.

      2. first they are ‘undeserving’; now they are “ad hoc” … Can you think of any other declaratives to disenfranchise this particular group of kids, David?

        Really, you attitude gets more Scrooge-y, as Christmas approaches… must be the season…

      3. David,
        It’s not about your preferences. It’s about how this community has worked to develop its parks for years and years. We (collectively, through a tiny portion of our taxes) supported the Spring Creek soccer complex, the Veterans Memorial, the Sechlar baseball complex, and the Way Park redevelopment. Each of these had an “ad hoc” group that did the heavy lifting, raised some of the money, and worked within the system. The skateboard coalition has played by these same rules, used an established organization (The Key) as a sponsor, worked with the appropriate city functions, and raised some of the money. Step-by-step they have done what we’ve required of other ad hoc groups. I’d support your effort to establish a clearer process for prioritizing future city investments in facilities to serve citizens, but I am baffled by why you’ve singled out this group and this project.

        Separately, your belief that the city can somehow become the funder of any of the many worthwhile nonprofits in town seems uncharacteristically muddled thinking. That’s not what local government does, as you know, unless you are planning to give up your obsession with taxes and entertain the idea of expanding city funding into the areas now served by our many excellent local service organizations. Are you now a big-government crusader?

      4. Randy,

        It’s not my intent to single out the skateboaders. They are simply the group de jour who are receiving taxpayer dollars. Unless we establish some rubric for grants of money to the various (worthy) groups, we are going to see more and more groups bypassing private donations and charitable organizations and coming to the government as the charity of first resort.

      5. But David…
        you continue to mischaracterize this process. This is normal, citizen-led park development, not a charitable request. You are the only one who describes the city’s investment in developing a skatepark as a “gift.” There is no “grant” to the skatepark group. No one is “receiving taxpayer dollars.” For you to keep saying so is just flat out wrong.

        The others involved in the process — from the constituent group who has worked within the system, to the PRAB members who have contributed their time and talents to shaping Northfield’s excellent parks, to citizens who have made financial contributions to show their support, to the current city council who validated all of that citizen involvement by authorizing the development of the skatepark — sees this as an example of how we all work together to enhance our community. Not everyone uses every amenity, but we all benefit from having a range of ways people can enjoy our parks. It’s one of the things we expect of our local government. Why is that so difficult for you to see?

      6. But David, in 63.1.4, you say “It’s not my intent to single out the skateboaders. ”
        But you have done so repeatedly throughout this conversation, and have never said why you have ‘isolated’ them except by characterizing them as an “undeserving” ” subset” of the community of park (hopefully) users.

        You have been so specific with that characterization, that you need to explain … not with generalities … but why you find this group to be “undeserving” even though they (through several ‘generations’ of kids) have for 16 years been complying with all the city has asked of them, and actually caused way LESS ruckus than the adults who opposed them having a park at every site that was suggested.

        You keep referring to them as receiving “taxpayer’s dollars”; virtually all the services we all receive through the city government is our receiving “taxpayer’s (ours) dollars” back.

        I can’t see a logical core to your argument.

      7. Could you point to some of the other recent park things (Way Park upgrades, baseball fields, etcetera) the City has done, and tell us which of them you think were or were not good precedents, and why? If any of them don’t strike you as raising the same problems as the skateboard park, could you identify the ways in which they differ?

      8. Randy, Kiffi, Seebs

        The simple fact remains that $60K of the money being spent are taxpayer dollars. Whether or not these taxpayer dollars are well-spent depends upon the value assigned to the skateboard park development.

        Even if I were to agree that a skateboard park adds value to our city parks, I don’t have a good sense from you of what that value would be. Is it $60K? Is it $90K? Is it $120K?

        Nor do I have a good sense from you who is deserving of the council’s attention for requests of taxpayer dollars.

      9. Wait, I am confused. I thought $30k of it was money raised by people specifically for this project in the past. The city may be paying more out in immediate cash flow, but only because they borrowed it previously, no?

  13. David, ditto Seebs’ comments in 58.2.6. Knowing you to be a thoughtful and articulate person, I remain surprised at the effort to which you are going to try to make the skatepark a defining precedent of some sort. (See below if you want a more robust and costly issue to gnaw on…)

    How about we just stick to the facts of the skatepark project and avoid hypotheticals? The Park and Recreation Advisory Board made a recommendation to the city council that a space in Riverside Park be assigned as the location of a new skatepark, and that $30K of the PRAB budget for park development be allocated to the development of said park. The council took action on this recommendation, approving both the space and the fund allocation, and committed an additional $30K of city funding to accelerate the development of the amenity. That’s what you as a city counselor could have acted upon. There was no hypothetical about what the maximum city investment of the skatepark might be. If you were sitting on the council, you could have voted “no” to the allocation of space, “no” to the allocation of PRAB funds, and, certainly “no” to the allocation of additional city resources. You could not have voted on a specious question of who or what would be more “deserving.”

    I don’t think a city council member’s job is to sit in judgment about the worth of individuals or groups (for lack of a better word, let’s just call them “citizens”) who seek and receive city services. You can certainly weigh categorical imperatives, like should X be a public service? But when you find yourself using words like “deserving,” I think you’ve wandered out of bounds. I think the role is simply to facilitate the governance of the city, which involves lots of citizen input and participation you and other counselors might not always appreciate, and are able, if the past is any guide, to selectively ignore.

    Let’s have a show of hands of everyone who uses Northfield’s parks: youth sports, the DJJD rodeo, dog-walkers, families with children, neighborhood picnics, and so on. Can we stipulate that parks are one of the core city services, maybe behind public safety (sans building), street maintenance and sewer and water, but certainly a high priority? Therefore, as a council member, one of your jobs is to use the city’s financial resources (“taxpayer dollars”) to provide the services citizens expect and value. That includes parks.

    If you insist upon weighing the “deservingness” of people and projects, maybe you can spend a little time and attention on the $750,000 downtown parking lot boondoggle. Shouldn’t the “free” market build its own parking lot, if there is such a pressing need? As a downtown business owner, how do you feel about that as a use of taxpayer dollars? (Griff, how about a new thread for that conversation…?)

    1. Randy,

      You are correct in stating that if I were a city council member that I could have voted on the location of the Riverside skateboard park, the $30K of funding, and the additional $30K of funding without articulating a standard.

      But, whether I voted for or against any proposal I think I would be doing my constituents and the city a disservice if I had no clear principles guiding the process of using taxpayer dollars. Part of those principles has to be defining who receives or does not receive taxpayer dollars, in what amount, and explaining why or why not.

      I am hard pressed to discern any guiding principles from the skateboard decision. It appears that the task will be incumbent upon the new council to come up with some standards to judge projects such as the proposed parking lot to which you refer (which I understand will be significantly cheaper given the proposed or completed land swap).

    2. Parks are, and should be, one of the city-supported services. The process used to site the skateboard was (overly) thorough, transparent, offered opportunities for al those affected to come forward and express their concerns. The money spent was proportional to the size of the project, and was not a gift, not a bribe, not a hand out.

      David, it seems you want a process that ends up promoting your individual values, but somehow looks to everyone else to be objective. If you’re not seeing any principles articulated in this thread, then you are just not reading or too close-minded to accept viewpoints other than your own. Just my opinion.

  14. David: I am really tired of banging my head against your ‘wall’ on this one; you have until the 8th of January, when you’re sworn in, to develop your own core policy about approving $$ to be spent.

    You haven’t responded to anything that’s been said here with any philosophy of your own, except for the declaration that this particular group of kids is in your term”undeserving” and a “subset” too small to be considered for a park facility to be developed for their use.

    So … I hope you’ll be working hard the next few days to collect your personal thoughts into a coherent decision making process which you can apply to all requests; that seems to be your goal.
    While you’re at that task, maybe you can find a rationale by which you rate all requests with equality, which also seems to be a stated goal.

    Good Luck!

    1. Kiffi,

      I have my own thoughts about what the policy should be. But, as Randy has said, it is not about what I want; it is about what is a workable model for the community.

      Here are a number of thoughts off the top of my head:

      1. How much does it cost initially? This is always the most important principle unless it deals with a fundamental human or constitutional right.
      2. What is the ongoing costs?
      3. How important is the objective for the citizens of Northfield? Core services like water, sewage, fire, police are the most important. Recreational services like bike paths and skateboard parks have the lowest priority.
      4. Can the need/want be met by private individuals or groups? Why or why not? (In other words, if people won’t voluntarily give you money for your request, why should the government involuntarily take the money from those same people?)
      5. Does the money serve those who are the most needy?
      6. Can the same goal be accomplished for less?
      7. Does it have any economic return?
      8. If people had to pay for the service, how much would they pay?
      9. Can we charge a fee for the service to recover the cost?
      10. If we don’t do it, what are the consequences?

      I find a strange irony in the fact that our most basic service, water, is charged at market price, and yet the city heavily subsides recreational services like biking and skateboarding.

      1. I must say I am appalled by your list…
        It seems to me that you believe that everything can be measured in worth by a monetary value: I could not disagree more with that concept.

        Money is simply a means to an end, and sometimes it costs a lot to get to a goal (health insurance, for instance); other things/goals are free … one doesn’t pay anything for them … but they last forever and the value is not measurable in dollars.

      2. Kiffi,

        I am of the firm conviction that government officials have the fiduciary duty to value every expenditure. To ignore the responsibility to balance the cost and the value received for that cost is to ignore the duty.

        A skateboard park at $0K is a good value; a park at $600K is not. Somewhere in between the government is not getting good value for the money, and the money would be better spent on something else or returned to the taxpayer.

      3. David: no one , meaning me in this case, is saying you do not have a “fiduciary duty”. My non-acceptance of your process is that it relies only on $$$ as a value.

        None of our parks return $$$ to the city; they fulfill another kind of necessity which is not quantifiable in $$$.

        you said: “To ignore the responsibility to balance the cost and the value received for that cost is to ignore the duty.”

        IF the only value you see is measurable only in terms of $$$, then I fear for any ‘quality of life’ , ‘common good’, recreational, etc., issues presented to the new Council… because you are not moved off your POV by any discussion, and the meetings will be long and arduous, IMO, if you aren’t getting your way.

      4. David L,

        Thanks for your list of possible questions for vetting community projects.

        I’m fine with anyone asking any or all of the ten questions you propose in 65.1. For each of these questions I can imagine a proposed expenditure that might properly raise that question. It’s harder to imagine a proposal that would usefully raise all of them.

        And yes, elected officials should “value” every proposed expenditure of public money. Could anyone not share your “firm conviction” in this matter?

        My live-est question is about what “value” means to you as an elected official. As we keep saying ad nauseam, one can’t sensibly “value” different goods, like city water and park acquisition, on a common scale. It doesn’t follow, of course, that citizens or officials should be indifferent to costs or to observe due economy in any expenditure. It does follow that officials will always have to deal, like it or not, with difficult and not fully “value”-able choices among competing goods. So it goes.

        I’d understand your 10-question catechism better if you’d apply it to a concrete (if perhaps fictitious) *positive* example of, say, a parks or recreation example. I get that you don’t like skateboard parks and pricey bike trails. Fair enough, but can you imagine (or, better, cite) any park/rec-related expenditure of public money you did or could or might support?

      5. Paul,

        Some fair questions and good observations.

        As you note, officials have to “value” the various goods and services that the city provides.

        I disagree with the assertion that an official cannot value services like city and water on a common scale with services like park and recreation expenditures. The simple fact is that these services have to be and are valued on a common scale – the amount of money that the city has to pay (or more correctly, the amount the taxpayers have to pay). By preferring some services over others, we have established a common scale, even though establishing that scale may not be intended. The hard part is determining value on intangible attributes, like “quality of life”, “complete transportation system”, or other things which we value, but we aren’t sure how important they are.

        Services can also be valued by comparing one service to another. We do it all the time as consumers. We have a limited amount of cash that we can spend. We might choose a vacation over an IRA because a vacation has significant present value. There is no reason why governments cannot do the same thing. Which do we prefer – a skateboard park for $60K or a reduction in the rent for the CAC in the amount of $60K? I find no reason why this type of valuing should be objectionable. (Sorry Randy, I don’t get it.)

        (As an aside: MasterCard has a clever advertising slogan telling us not to worry about cost. It has commercials end with the tagline, “Priceless”. The implication – put everything on the charge card; it doesn’t matter the cost; whatever the cost, it is worth it. That is hardly a sustainable personal nor governmental approach.)

        Another valuing method is to look at what the private market would charge for the service if it were to build it. For example, if the private market were to have built the bike path along the river how much would it have spent if the money were coming out of its own pocket and not the taxpayers?

        If it is true that it is just too difficult to value the intangibles in expenditures like the skateboard park (or the TIGER trail), then the most logical way for a councilor to proceed is to say, “No.”. If valuation is that difficult, then prudence dictates caution.

        As far as a concrete example, I would have supported this skateboard park for no city money with the skateboarders providing their $23K and the city providing park space, maintenance costs, and personnel for oversight. I probably would have voted in favor of the $30K, but not because I thought that it was a good idea, but because councilors shouldn’t be micro-managing the park board’s decisions; it should manage the park board through its budget. I would not have supported an un-budgeted and unrequested grant of an additional $30K.

        Regarding the bike path, I would have supported a bike lane on Water Street down to 7th and then over. Nothing more.

      6. David,

        Thanks for the concrete stuff. I agree, in particular, that councilors shouldn’t try to micromanage things like park budgets that have already been set. Extra-budgetary expenses, especially large ones, are fair game. As are budgets themselves — if you see parks and rec as simply wasteful government spending, then say so at budget time. (Is this in fact your view? I don’t think so, but how does any spending on parks square with your catechism?)

        All that said, I stand by the view that different goods can’t always be valued on a common scale. Yes, one can always compare a $20K price tag for one project to a $30K price tag for another, but the payback (aka, value) on various investments can’t always be compared directly. How would you, David, calculate the payback, for instance, on a $60K reduction in rent to the CAC?

        As an aside: Your MasterCard reference is amusing, but something of a straw man in these discussions, no? Has anyone here argued that, whatever the cost it’s worth it?

        Again, thanks for the concrete particulars. Philosophy is fine, but as a constituent I’d like to know specifics.

      7. Paul,

        In my opinion, a modified MasterCard approach is an all too common approach to plead for taxpayer dollars. That approach was used for the bike trail, and we are using it right now on the TIGER grant to go under Highway 3.

        The bike trail along the river is a worthy goal, as is the underpass. But, there is some point along the continuum from $0.00 to “priceless” when it no longer becomes a worthy goal. From my perspective, I don’t see that this council has developed any specifics, let alone a philosophy.

        I agree that constituents deserve to have specifics. But, first, I think the new council will have to develop a philosophy.

      8. David,

        You say (in relation to spending on city projects):

        I agree that constituents deserve to have specifics. But, first, I think the new council will have to develop a philosophy.

        My reaction is … mixed.

        On the good side, it’s responsible, duly diligent, and reassuring to tax-paying constituents to know that spending decisions are made thoughtfully and with a big picture in mind. Who could disagree?

        On the worrying side, if by “develop a philosophy” you mean the new Council won’t get to specifics until some consensus is reached on big political questions (Blue? Red? Libertarian? Anarcho-syndicalist?), I fear that the new Council will produce little but airy persiflage. Projects, good or bad, will languish in limbo.

        Any thoughts on how to avoid philosophical gridlock?

      9. Paul,

        I think the big task will be convincing this council that we should develop a philosophy regarding spending. Given the enthusiasm for projects like the skateboard project and the TIGER grant, I think new councilors may have a difficult time convincing the old councilors that a policy is needed.

  15. David, as a more detailed and specific description of how you are thinking about city spending is slowly being revealed, it is both reassuring and more frightening.

    On the one hand, it’s great that you understand how important it is that the council not micromanage the various boards and commissions that provide advice and recommendations to the council. That’s a key way to broaden citizen engagement with local government, and the work of those bodies has not been consistently respected over the past few years. As Paul points out, you have your best shot at shaping Norhtfield’s city services when budgets are first established, then letting others work within those parameters.

    On the other hand, the way you describe “payback” suggests you are too much like an Oscar Wilde character who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The examples you provide are almost all comparative pricing mechanisms. As you apply your rubric to city spending, you can know with certainty the cost, but nothing you’ve said above suggests you have yet given much thought or weight to the question of value. Except, of course, for your clear preference for less spending. Is that as deep as it goes?

    I do appreciate, though, that you have finally framed your comparison of the skatepark and the CAC is a reasonable way:

    Which do we prefer — a skateboard park for $60K or a reduction in the rent for the CAC in the amount of $60K? I find no reason why this type of valuing should be objectionable. (Sorry Randy, I don’t get it.)

    No need to apologize (at least not to me). While it says nothing about how you might “value” the result of either expenditure, this construction properly compares two steps the city might make, rather than a more abstract comparison of which thing (one a city park amenity and the other a nonprofit organization) is more “deserving.” The city could lower the rent. Whether it would generate more “payback” for the community brings you back to that vexing question of value, which you haven’t even remotely addressed.

    As you continue to talk about these issues from the dias, I hope you’ll try to be more accurate in the language you choose. Even at the end of your post 65.1.5 you can’t help but describe the additional $30K the city council chose to allocate as a “grant.” No, it wasn’t a grant. It was (or will be) a shift in funds from one city account to another, to be spent developing a city park amenity. Yes, it’s all taxpayer dollars, but none of it is being granted to anyone.

    1. Randy,

      I am not presently advocating for less spending. I am advocating for a more deliberate and systematic approach to spending, especially as it involves non-essential services.

      I am also trying to be conscious of the fact that local tax dollars tend to be regressive, and to keep in mind that some taxpaying entities, namely most businesses, pay taxes at a much higher rate, and use substantially fewer services. I am concerned about both fairness in the delivery of services and the taxing for those services.

  16. David L. and Paul Z.- I think the greatest problem in developing a “policy” or “procedure” to make objective spending decisions is that many of the decisions are subjective in nature. The ideal would be to have a procedure that would be timeless from one council to the next. This is probably unattainable, so my suggestion would be for the councilors to try to work together rather than against each other as proposals arise. It is hard to move forward as a group when the group can not come to an understanding with each other. Each new council has different dynamics depending upon the mix of personalities involved. Being able to recognize this is, I think, the first step to take. But, then, my opinion and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee at McDonalds.

    1. Actually that is a good opinion, John, and worth more than a McDonald’s cup of coffee, or a dollar!

      For many years I did Council observing for the League of Women Voters, and so feel perfectly comfortable in having this opinion: The problem with every council I have watched in the last 14 or so years, is that egos get in the way of substantive discussion.
      That should’t be a surprise; it’s a universal condition.
      But I would think in this small town situation, there would be more effort to not be so dismissive of an opposing opinion… but an effort made not to just ignore , but to make a structured, well argued case for the position you favor.

      I’ll just go ahead and say something that will probably get peoples backs up: the times when the discussion at the council is personal opposition, rather than well founded policy, or intellectual differences that can be argued on a substantive, rather than preferential basis, is amazing.

      There is more time spent in outright bare opposition than it would take to have an argument based on fact, or basic policy difference.

      There may be ‘light at the end of the tunnel’… new Councilor , Jessica Peterson-White, seems to have the sort of cool analytical mind that goes right to the base of a question, and she then asks the defining question to establish a basis for discussion.

      I expect this will be a very interesting Council to watch …

    2. John,

      It might be a lot of effort, but I think the time spent developing a policy identifying essential and non-essential services and how much and where the money is spent will pay dividends for this council and future councils. The United Way takes its money and divides it among worthy causes using a methodology of some kind. Government needs to be held to even a higher standard (because the money it has was taken involuntarily).

      1. Well, David, that might work, but I agree that it would be a lot of time and effort. How many different elections (ie. councils) do you think it would take to actually enact a policy like that?

      2. And … there is absolutely no way for one council to hold another successive one to the previously developed ‘policy’ … so it will always come down to having a discussion based on the needs and preferences of the sitting council.

        I would think you would understand that, David, given your desire to ‘correct’ the financing of the Safety Center.

    1. After watching that video, I can only be jealous of not having those reflexes and that sense of balance anymore. I am content to enjoy skateboarding as a spectator sport. Is there anything in the new park plans for bleachers, or must we bring our own portable seating?

  17. John – the planning for the design of the skateboard park is under way along with a parallel consideration of the redevelopment of the small area between the Village on the Cannon and the highway. One concept provides for a berm on the east side of the pad which will not only mitigate sound, but will provide an informal place for people to sit and watch theboarders.
    These are in very initial stages, of course, but I’m encouraged that people who formerly were very unhappy with the summer skateboarding scene are now working to help the new installation be good for everyone. The skateboard coalition is meeting this week to talk seriously about the design of their facility – a first step in the process. The city will need this before soil preparation, determining the cost and other steps can be taken.

    1. This is all so exciting for the youth of Northfield. I’m happy for them and happy that we are working together as a community to provide them with a place for this skateboard park. Young kids who have worked so hard to make this happen “deserve” our support (IMO). We as a community need to encourage young people with these kinds of endeavors and show we value them. Thank you Jane for the update.

    2. Jane- Thanks for reminding me of the berm. I remember, now, reading about that previously, and that would certainly give a good vantage point for spectators.

  18. Here we go again. After the Council voted unanimously on December 4 to match $30,000 in Park Board funds with $30,000 in City funds, the new Council is now considering a new motion to allocate “$30,000 from the Park Fund for the Skate Park project along with an additional $15,000 from the General Fund on a matching funds basis with private contributions toward the project.” Instead of the promised $30,000, this new motion offers less money and more conditions. Will this be another broken promise to the skateboarders, who have worked at this for years, who have already met a matching grant totaling $20,000, and who are currently working hard to prepare a design for the skateboard park? There is no question that more fund raising will be needed, and we are ready and eager to start. But I hope the Council, at its meeting on Tuesday, will reaffirm its original decision and keep faith with the skateboarders, who have surely experienced enough reversals in this long process.

    1. Rob,

      Remember, the Park Board (on behalf of the skateboarders) didn’t request the additional $30,000.00; the council gave it to them sua sponte.

      The most responsible action is give the decision back to the Park Board; if the Park Board wants to fund the additional $30,000.00 out of its budget, and it has the money, then it has the council’s permission. If the Park Board decides that it has higher priorities, then so be it.

      As an aside, when the Finance Director presented options to the council to deal with this request, I was astonished to see that the council had about 10 choices of where to get money. That shouldn’t happen. Prudent fiscal discipline dictates that the council not cross-mingle various funds. If it is a park board activity, then the money should come out of park board funds.

      Both the federal and state governments have got themselves into trouble by failing to honor elementary budgetary practice. The state “owes” the schools over $1.0 BILLION because it raided the school budget for other activities. The city is starting to do the same thing. For example, it raided 3 separate funds, including the technology fund to get $1.0 MILLION in cash to build the safety center. That is bad fiscal practice, which can very shortly lead to bad fiscal discipline.

      1. David : I would agree, in principle, that it is very bad fiscal policy to be moving money around from fund to fund.
        But if I’m not mistaken, the General Fund has in it some leeway for funding decisions that may not have been anticipated, such as this one.

        I believe the PRAB DID request that the Council fund an additional 30 K, and that in my opinion is reasonable since a couple of years ago the Council DE-funded the Parks system , in order to balance LGA cuts.

        Northfield residents, according to the city wide survey, value the park/trail system very highly, and that would indicate to me that the PRAB should once again have an annual budget indicated as a line item in the City’s budget.

        What really bothers me is what I call the ‘talking past” each other mode that the previous council had gotten into, and if not careful, will continue with the current council unless the new members prevail , and insist that the basic pros and cons of an issue be discussed/deliberated, rather than just a lot of personal opinions being expressed.

        So, when you say: “The most responsible action is give the decision back to the Park Board; if the Park Board wants to fund the additional $30,000.00 out of its budget, and it has the money, then it has the council’s permission. If the Park Board decides that it has higher priorities, then so be it.” … that says to me that the Council is not considering the past defunding of the PRAB, and is not respecting the request for the additional dollars, and is not considering the many years this issue has been on the table.

      2. Kiffi,

        My understanding is that the PRAB was “defunded” because we didn’t have the money. We don’t have the money now either, especially with the huge amounts going to the new USBank building (aka police station).

      3. David : It is of course possible that my memory is wrong, but what I remember is that some amount of money was transferred from the PRAB fund to the General Fund; I’m sure you can check that out…

        Does your feeling that this matching 30K cannot be funded from the General Fund because of the cost of the Police Station mean that you will approve NO requests from the General Fund for the rest of the year?

        Maybe you should approve this 30 K, and cut 3O K from the Police facility?

        16 years ago, when the skateboard ordinance was written, the Mayor promised the kids of this community a skateboard facility, and it still hasn’t happened.
        Now we finally have the possibility of achieving this goal, and you are going to shoot it down?

      4. Kiffi,

        My understanding is that the PRAB asked for $30K from the PRAB budget to fund the skateboard park. The Council gave permission for the $30K and then gave the PRAB another $30K without any idea where this unrequested $30K is coming from. The solution – give the PRAB permission to do $60K from their budget.

        I don’t want to set a precedent that budgets are set, and then one department raids another department or the general fund on an ad hoc basis.

        Furthermore, my understanding is that the skateboarders had a plan to raise the additional $30K that the council gave them. Let them work for it. The more they have invested in the park, the better they will care for it and police it.

  19. Rob, you’re right, the staff suggested a motion like the one you describe. There is another suggested motion, as well. Here they both are:

    The Northfield City Council allocates $30,000 from the Park Fund for the Skate Park project along with an additional $30,000 from the General Fund;
    The Northfield City Council allocates $30,000 from the Park Fund for the Skate Park project along with an additional $15,000 from the General Fund on a matching funds basis with private contributions toward the project.

    Fortunately, both options are before the council. I hope advocates will urge the council to approve the first motion which was the original intent, I believe, when they asked staff to recommend what fund could be tapped. Several councilors didn’t want to take the money from the park fund which had already been used for the PRAB contribution. Finance Director Kathleen McBride said the general fund was the logical source for funding the skate park because the park fund was reduced several years ago and the funds shifted to the general fund.

  20. Last Tuesday the Council held its 4 hour retreat in which a facilitator led them through a personality type exercise for the first 2 and 3/4 hours…. I guess they needed it!

    But maybe they should have just paid the facilitator’s fee to the skateboard coalition, who have patiently waited for 16 years, have worked together consistently through 3-4 ‘generations’ of kids, regardless of disparate personalities, have always made their case with calm and rational statements, have respected each others POVs, have raised over 30 K $$ without a site for the park(tat $$ now down to about 23K because of costs along the way…. and I could go on enumerating their interactive people skills … and they are kids!

    This decline in matching the PRAB funds came from Mayor Graham at the last Council meeting; and we have to remember that any council can undo the work of the previous… Maybe they can also find the missing 2 Million dollars in the Police Facility costs that have changed by that amount
    since a previous accounting!

    Speak up people, call your councilors… these are your kids!

    1. Agree with you Kiffi. And Rob. This is a rotten thing to do to the kids. And again jerks them around.

      We have a huge heroin problem among our young adults in Northfield. I can recall at least 10 deaths, arrests, busts, whatever. People wonder why. I think it’s because we treat our youth so poorly–at least some of them. Yes, the theater/orchestra/ATHLETES get tons of resources and attention directed toward them—but other kids get diddly squat–either from the city (eg the skateboarders) and they get treated like dirt by some staff at NHS as well (If we’re gonna launch a campaign against bullying–how bout we start with certain teachers….).

      I just hate seeing us have this problem and continuing to turn a blind eye, to keep jerking around kids the way we have with this skateboard issue. I’m not equating boarders with heroin users fyi–I’m just saying that the way we treat the non-star kids in this town sucks.

  21. David : I am so frustrated with your answers which do not ever speak to the specificity of a question asked , but instead go over your previous point …

    And your response which I quote : “Furthermore, my understanding is that the skateboarders had a plan to raise the additional $30K that the council gave them. Let them work for it. The more they have invested in the park, the better they will care for it and police it.”
    shows a lack of comprehension, IMO, of evaluating this whole long process, as well as a lack of understanding of what monies had already been raised by the Skateboard coalition, and then somewhat diminished by complying with city requests of them, and the purchase of the temporary equipment.

    From your answer above, 71.1.4, I take it then that you will not vote to approve any undesignated expenditure from the General Fund over the next year, if it has not been specified in this year’s budget. We’ll see what happens with that….

    I will readily admit to being really angry about this issue; I see it as a lack of support for youth in the community, and a re-enforcement of the kind of failure to support that makes kids cynical about how adults value youth.

    I surely hope a majority of the Council will not agree with your position.

    Just reading back over what I wrote, I am again infuriated by your statement : “Let them work for it”.
    What do you think they have been doing all these years? How could they have ‘worked’ in any more responsible manner?

    1. Kiffi,

      You and I have a different view of local government. I think $30K is a generous contribution for a non-essential service in a tight economy. Giving them $30K that they didn’t ask for sets a bad precedent.

      1. David

        Your position on how local government should allocate funds is one thing–I might not agree with it, but I can respect it.

        Your statement of “let them work for it”, on the other hand, I cannot respect–it shows a really crappy attitude toward a group of kids who HAVE CLEARLY been “working for it” for 16 years. It’s the dismissiveness of your tone that is infuriating.

      2. I couldn’t agree with Kathie more. Not in any of these comments made by you David, nor the comments you and I have shared via e-mail has shown any kind of respect for these kids or any positive attitude towards their efforts. It is very disappointing.

      3. Kathie and Shelley,

        I applaud and respect the efforts that these kids have put into getting a skateboard park. I also applaud and respect the effort the Y has put into getting a new building.

      4. I would think if Northfield is going to build a skateboard park that having it high quality would be preferred and less costly in the long run. I have no proof but I would estimate the user base would increase exponentially with increases in quality above a very basic park.

  22. The Skateboard Coalition already, six years ago, met a matching grant from HCI that raised a total of $20,000. The Skateboard Coalition is prepared to conduct additional fund raising and to apply for grants. Because of Northfield’s relatively low overall poverty rate, we are not eligible for a Tony Hawk Foundation grant for $25,000. While we’re looking at other options, the promised level of funding from the City Council is crucial for moving this process forward in a timely manner.

    After a process that was very difficult for some residents of the Village on the Cannon (VOC), I know that there are residents there who would like to see adequate funds provided to ensure construction of a skateboard park made of the best and quietest materials as soon as possible. This is something that brings together both skateboarders and neighbors of the skateboard park.

    On January 9, I attended a meeting at The Key that included current members of the Skateboard Coalition, a former (founding) member of the Coalition from 2006, a VOC resident, a staffer and adult board member from The Key, and T.J. Heinricy from the City engineering department. As a result of that meeting, the VOC resident, the Key adult board member and I have formed an advisory group to support and assist the Skateboard Coalition in working with the City and with neighbors of the skateboard park, and with potential donors and grant providers.

    More importantly, the former Coalition member (now in his twenties) has been meeting regularly with the current Coalition members to help them create a preliminary skateboard park design. This week, the design will be brought to the engineering department for review. Since the site was secured and funding promised in December, the Coalition has continued to work diligently to make the skateboard park a reality in 2013.

    T.J. and Joe Stapf believe construction of a permanent skateboard park in 2013 is a realistic goal, but it becomes less realistic in the absence of this promised funding from the City Council.

  23. The skateboard park process continues to move forward even while the ground is covered with snow. We’ve set up a Northfield Skateboard Park blog to provide updates and other cool extras. It currently includes reports on various meetings (like last night’s PRAB meeting), photographs (like a photo of McGhie and Betts taking the soil borings in Riverside Park), and my long historical archive of skateboard park material from We hope to include designs, videos, and more photos soon.

  24. Although I have followed the skateboard story for years, as I new resident at Village on the Cannon
    last June, I had the opportunity to watch (and admire) the action from my little deck. Since then, residents here have formed a group they call Friends of Riverside Park to help guide the landscaping around the skate plaza. My role is a sort of link between the Friends and the Coalition.

    Thanks to Rob for creating the blog – we hope it will be a meeting place for people interested in seeing the construction of a permanent facility happen this summer!

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