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From speechifying on to spending

Every December, the Council passes a city budget for the next year. Then in January, they fight it out all over again as they approve individual expenditures and related contracts. 

Thus, tonight is a night of money tussles, starting with a resolution giving Visit Duluth $1.6 million in tourism tax dollars for each of the next three years to promote Duluth as a tourism mecca. The resolution includes a $120,000 budget increase over last year. 

“What were our tax revenues in 2011 from tourism?” Councilor Garry Krause asks, wondering aloud whether “something else is going to have to go away” in the city’s budget to make up for the additional money given to Visit Duluth. 

It’s not, Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery replies. The city’s tourism tax fund “held up amazingly well all the way through 2011.” Duluth expects to collect about $7.5 million in the coming year in tourism taxes.

Councilors pass the Visit Duluth expenditure without further brouhaha and move on.

Now that former Councilor Todd Fedora is gone, the next resolution for $20,000 in funding for Duluth’s Sister Cities organization is considered without acrimony. 

(Sister Cities, as you might know, promotes cultural understanding and international peace. And other such insubstantial stuff.)

Perhaps Fedora thought Councilor Gardner ought to have paddled to Japan on a rubber raft, an English-Japanese phrasebook gripped in her teeth.

Awhile back, Councilor Fedora laid into Councilor Sharla Gardner something fierce over Sister Cities. His bellyache concerned the money Sister Cities spent to help pay for Gardner’s airfare to the Japanese Sister City of Ohara, as Duluth’s representative and delegation leader. Perhaps Fedora thought Councilor Gardner, who paid for the bulk of her trip, ought to have paddled to Japan on a rubber raft, an English-Japanese phrasebook gripped in her teeth.

In any case, tonight’s $20,000 request is well below the $60,000 Sister Cities used to receive, before the Council asked the organization to become more financially independent. 

Duluth Sister Cities President Irina Haller tells Councilors that in 2006, the Twin Ports participated in a national survey that showed Duluth did very well on what’s termed “social capital.” People here tend to be involved in local politics, for example, as well as community activities and school sports.

“Where we didn’t do well,” Haller tells Councilors, “is when we attempted to communicate with individuals different from us. And that’s what Sisters Cities brings to the table.”

“I support the Sister Cities concept,” Councilor Garry Krause grouses. “But like the Great Lakes Aquarium, Sister Cities is still here asking for funding.”

“We still have government involvement in Duluth Sister Cities,” Councilor Sharla Gardner counters, “so it’s appropriate for us to be funding it.”

And with that, Councilors vote 7 to 2 to approve the Sister Cities resolution (Fosle and Krause, No).