Lake Elmo approves park survey

Residents express concerns about cost\

Lake Elmo officials voted unanimously March 5 to approve a park survey to help the city determine how residents utilize parks and open spaces. The survey results will help guide decision-making in the future.

“The park commission has $900,000-plus in parkland dedication funds,” City Administrator Dean Zuleger said at the city council meeting. “Before (the park commissioners) make their capital improvement plan, they want to know how residents utilize parks and open spaces.

This survey is to make sure they’re spending the funds according to public wants and needs.”

The fund that’s set aside for parks has been growing as the city develops. Zuleger explained that property developers pay a special park fee, which is dedicated to creating and maintaining parks and open spaces in the city. The city could receive significantly more parkland dedication money in the coming years as the city adds more residential units.

The Park Commission reviewed a number of options regarding how to conduct the survey, finally opting to recommend Information Specialists Group, Inc. to the city council. The firm will interview 500 Lake Elmo residents via phone to find out how they use city parks and open spaces, and what they would like to see improved.

The total cost for utilizing ISGMN, including conducting the survey and presenting results to city council, is $28,800. Some residents have expressed concerns, contending that is too much to spend on a survey.

“I don’t have a problem with Lake Elmo doing a park survey,” Lake Elmo resident Greg McGrath said. “I just think there are plenty of ways to get the information that doesn’t cost $28,000. Divide that by 500 (people) and that’s $56 per interview.”

McGrath suggested that the park commissioners could interact on a more personal level with residents to gauge the needs of the community.

“I think there are other opportunities to get feedback, like open houses or online surveys or knocking on doors. I appreciate that the commissioners are volunteering their time, but it’s their job to be figuring this out,” McGrath said.

Zuleger explained that the park commission decided to consult an outside group to eliminate potential bias.

“$28,000 is a considerable amount. (The commissioners) originally proposed an online or staff-generated survey, but they decided they wanted it to be as scientifically and statistically constructed as possible with no bias from staff or the commission,” Zuleger said.

McGrath expressed doubts that city staff would have a bias regarding park usage.

“It’s just frustrating as a taxpayer,” McGrath said. “I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with the parks. It’s too much money for information that could’ve been gathered in a different way.”

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7814.

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