Baxter council, trails commission convene to address funding shortages

A number of projects have been stymied in recent years on account of funding shortages, which has prompted Baxter city officials to reevaluate their approach to expanding the city's park and trail systems.

Baxter Joint Meeting.jpg
Community Development Director Josh Doty (foreground, blue button-down) addresses a joint meeting of the Baxter City Council and Baxter Parks and Trails Commission on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at Baxter City Hall. The meeting was billed as a collaboration to address funding shortages and initiatives for the city's long term nature recreation plans. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Officials gathered for a joint meeting of the Baxter City Council and Baxter Parks and Trails Commission to communicate and come to a better understanding of how the municipality should move forward with its outdoor amenities.

In short, the city is looking at a bevy of improvements to its parks, trails, beaches and other nature offerings, but with restricted funding — a predicament, Mayor Darrel Olson noted in his statement to the joint meeting, that has led to no shortage of hand wringing and soul searching by city officials. In previous meetings, the council observed some projects were unable to get off the ground because they were hampered by shortages in funding.

For a city predicated on a robust and thriving nature trail system through its borders, Community Development Director Josh Doty said, the Parks and Trails Commission plays a key role in ongoing plans to revamp the city’s parks, expand its parks and trails into the southwestern portions of the city, as well as link its nature tourism amenities with state and national trails.

“I know you’re frustrated,” Olson said. “You don’t have enough money to do anything with. We understand that. We’re curious what your thoughts are, what suggestions you have and share your frustrations.”

In terms of funding, Doty said he contacted a number of comparable Minnesota municipalities to see how they accrued enough money for their projects. He noted the city can look at its parks and trails fund, grants, sales tax, food and beverage tax, general fund, property tax levy, franchise fees, private organizations and donations, among other sources.


Doty pointed to the Park Dedication Fund — a point of frustration for both city officials and members of the commission — which has been depleted in recent years, thereby hobbling a number of initiatives the city has looked to undertake. Doty noted the fund was taking in as much as $200,000 to $275,000 a year in the first half of the 2010s.

By 2015, construction expenditures for a litany of projects on Cypress, Jasperwood, Isles and other roads, overtook revenues and the city was looking at an empty bottom line for the fund by 2017 to 2018, Doty said. The parks and trails system is largely dependent on this fund, he noted, compared to, say, forms of taxation.

“Obviously, we haven’t been getting the money replenishing comparative to what we were getting before,” said Doty, who noted the city’s trajectory in development — which is, simplified, predominantly redevelopment to existing plots, versus creating new plats or building new establishments — means a park dedication fee is not applicable by state statute.

In late October, the commission recommended motion would have stipulated a $28,800 park dedication fee to either be used for the construction of the trail at the southern easement, or to vacate the easement and fund a new proposed trail on the eastern roadside of the Edgewood Senior Living facility expansion.

The commission’s push to tack a park dedication fee onto the deal and the council’s reluctance to approve it marked another complication in the struggle to accrue enough funds to carry out the city’s long-term plans. Commission member Josh Pennington said the commission wasn’t frustrated, but had experienced difficulties with handling park dedication fees.

“If there is one point of frustration, it’s something that’s out of our hands. Park dedication fees are often the only source of funding we have,” Pennington said. “As you can see, we’re definitely in a state where there’s no funding. As the city continues to grow, the parks and trails system will also continue to grow.”

“We may need to take another look at the comprehensive plan,” added Pennington, who noted the city may look to shift and reshuffle its priorities in terms of expansion and also observed the city managed to make changes to valuable amenities, such as connections to the Oakwood Trail, through “creative” forms of fundraising.

Commission member Melissa Barrick said she agreed with Pennington and added communication was key. If members of the lakes area community are aware of what projects are needed, how they fit into Baxter’s framework and what value they bring to the table, Barrick noted, then it improves the city’s ability to find outside support for its initiatives.


“The city could look to make it a bit more obvious,” Council member Todd Holman said. “People spend money on what they care about. I think there’s value in this.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .

What To Read Next
Get Local