Duluth Plagued by Festering Problems

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The State of the City address of 2019 by Mayor Emily Larson was more of the same. Many parts of this speech we have heard for many years now. Politicians love festering problems. It gives them something to talk about. Let’s take a look at the issues and priorities discussed and the status of those issues.

Using the public process of Imagine Duluth 2035, the priorities of the City of Duluth were identified: infrastructure, livable neighborhoods, affordable housing, green space, and energy conversation, dynamic and diverse economy, culture and recreation and a safe and secure community. That is too many priorities. A city like Duluth does not have the resources to address all of these at once, so they must be prioritized.

Once again, a Mayor of Duluth is talking about fixing our streets, which has been a festering problem for decades.  This is not a problem that is easily fixed, but recommendations have been made on funding the street improvement program that would not involve raising taxes. (See http://duluthbizpac.net/is-anyone-ever-going-to-fix-our-streets/) Why are these ideas not being acted on?  The Mayor continues to tout that “77% of Duluth voters approved a tax increase.” This number is misleading. In that election year, only 12,021 people voted to raise your taxes. The Mayor is lobbying the state legislature to increase taxes based on the approval of less than 25% of registered voters in Duluth, and less than 15% of the overall Duluth population? Doesn’t seem like a strong position. Other revenue sources could have been utilized and we could be fixing streets today. But that means the festering problem goes away.

Also, once again, a Duluth Mayor talked about the need for good jobs in Duluth. The downtown area of the City of Duluth is classified as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone). HUBZone is a United States Small Business Administration program for small companies that operate and employ people in Historically Underutilized Business Zones. To qualify for the program, a business (except tribally-owned concerns) must meet the following criteria.  They must:

  • be a small business by SBA standards.
  • be owned and controlled at least 51% by U.S. citizens, or a Community Development Corporation, an agricultural cooperative, or an Indian tribe.
  • have its principal office located within a “Historically Underutilized Business Zone,” which includes lands considered “Indian Country” and military facilities closed by the Base Realignment and Closure Act.
  • have at least 35% of its employees residing in a HUBZone.

Firms owned by Indian Tribal Governments must either maintain a principal office in a HUBZone and ensure that 35% of its employees reside within a HUBZone or certify that at least 35% of its employees engaged in performing the contract will reside within an Indian reservation governed by the Indian Tribal Government. Why is the City of Duluth not using this tool as a way to entice job creation in the City of Duluth? These jobs, and those employed with these companies could help revitalize the downtown area. Let’s see this festering problem go away.

Also, once again, a Duluth Mayor discussed the need for Housing in Duluth, a decades-old problem. But the Mayor only focused on low-income housing and this is only addressing half of the problem. There is a shortage of all housing market types in Duluth. The Mayor said this is a “crisis” and we agree, but the city has done very little to help fix this festering problem. The aging housing market, high real estate taxes, construction costs and extreme permitting costs well above other cities of our same size are all factors in the current housing dilemma. But the City Council recently approved a 6% tax increase and permitting costs in the City of Duluth are a barrier to housing. See http://duluthbizpac.net/cant-find-housing-to-fit-your-needs/ for more on this issue. But, fixing this festering problem would mean that we couldn’t talk about it anymore.

The bottom line is this; we have limited resources and too many priorities. Government needs to focus on the basics; Job creation, infrastructure, and safety. We need leadership that doesn’t use games to decide where money is best spent. Government in Duluth should get back to the basics, do them well and get rid of festering problems so politicians have less to talk about.