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Recently, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson brought forth her proposed 2018 budget, and predictably, the hounds of hell have been loosed.
The untouchable police and fire department budgets are facing a cut amounting to $711,800.00. The unions that represent police and fire department employees are strongly opposed to these cuts! Shocker.
I don’t blame the unions for balking at any budget that doesn’t include large increases in funding for the workers they represent, but realistically, the money just isn’t there.
This City Council has done precious little to expand revenue, by way of encouraging new and existing businesses in their endeavors. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall council resolutions opposing Enbridge Energy, a major Duluth employer, a denial of a variance to construct a Kwik Trip convenience store near Proctor, (like it or not, Kwik Trip is taking this area by storm, leaving in it’s wake, high-paying jobs, fresh produce and groceries in food deserts, and many other positives.) The Council embarked on an ill-advised foray into the world of meddling in the free market by putting onerous wage and paid-leave constraints on private businesses, and they also want to ban plastic bags.
Even Police Chief Mike Tusken is prepared to tighten the department’s belt, and seems to understand the reality of our revenue situation. He released a statement in which he says, “Police will be fully staffed in 2018 and currently are in the process of hiring up to 15 new officers to meet our authorized staffing of 155 officers. Current vacancies are from retirements, projected retirements and resignations. Our staff has worked towards more than one scenario to reach our target budget and the final decision will be made in early October.”
What is disturbing about this budget is that it still calls for a 4% property tax increase, which will raise rents, at a time when Duluth residents are facing increases in water, gas and electric bills. This sounds like the perfect storm! What could possibly make it worse? Oh, I know, how about an increase in the sales tax? Back as far as 1904, when William Stephen Rainsford was arguing in favor of the income tax to fund the US government, he articulated how sales taxes affect the poorest members of society far more than the more wealthy. There is no escape from a sales tax.
There are a number of new small enterprises in the downtown/Canal Park area that are facing a long, cold winter void of the tourist traffic that they have become accustomed to over the last few months, and higher rent, higher utility costs, and possibly higher labor costs are bound to hurt. You can bombard me with studies of how businesses have thrived in highly-regulated and high-cost environments such as San Francisco or Seattle, but we are talking about Duluth, Minnesota. A few bike trails and an aerial bridge are not on par with the amenities that exist organically in the large, diverse costal cities.
There are many people living in Duluth who are going to feel pain from these increases. The four percent property tax increase will add a projected $21 to the tax bill of an owner of a $160,000 house. That doesn’t sound bad, but if you are already paying $3000 a year, i.e. $250 a month, just for taxes, you will notice it. Your utilities are going to be higher, so what are you going to do? Turn the heat down? Sure. But why? Why can’t the city government and the public utilities live within their means? Why don’t the costs ever go down? These taxes are the most regressive. The best way to pay for all of these extras that the city provides, the bike trails, hiking trails, etc. would be with a user fee.
Thankfully, the sales tax is on a referendum that can be voted down, but unfortunately, the money from the sales tax increase is earmarked for road repairs, the one thing we desperately need most of all in Duluth.