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Our view: Road repairs: Hold on to your wallets

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opinion Duluth,Minnesota 55802 http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/sites/all/themes/duluthnewstribune_theme/images/social_default_image.png
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Our view: Road repairs: Hold on to your wallets
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

The task force has been meeting for a long time, a full year, and is filled with smart, creative community leaders. But when it comes to finding a new way to pay for road repairs in Duluth the immediate options it came up with really could have been generated by anyone able to mute a TV during a commercial break.

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Duluthians are facing a monthly fee of $8 to $10 or a city property tax increase of 30 percent over two years to make up for the

$6 million a year the city used to receive from Fond-du-Luth Casino and used to use for road repairs. And then that probably won’t be the end of it. Task force members said at a community forum Tuesday morning that they eventually want to find a way to generate, dedicate and spend $12 million to $13 million a year to fix Duluth’s crumbling streets. Hold on to your wallets.

“It’s going to take time to get ahead of the curve, (and) it’s going to take money from all of us that we don’t want to spend,” task force member and City Councilor Jennifer Julsrud said at the chamber-sponsored forum at Valentini’s restaurant on London Road. “But at some point we’re going to have to determine that this is a priority; this is important.”

Most residents and visitors would agree that improving the now-deplorable condition of Duluth’s streets has to be a high priority. And as harsh or blunt as the opening paragraph of this editorial may have seemed, no one seems to have any better ideas for how to pay for it. The task force members asked — and even begged a little — for forum attendees to brainstorm with them.

Sell Spirit Mountain, someone suggested. Can’t, due to conservation issues, the turnout of about 30 was told. (Attendance wasn’t bad, considering Tuesday morning’s whiteout.)

Then sell one or both of the city’s golf courses. The city actually already is looking into doing that.

Use Duluth’s tourism-tax revenues for roads. Nope, can’t, not according to state law.

Use more of the local government aid Duluth gets from the state. Sure, but then the city would have to cut funding for something now being paid for with LGA.

How about a toll road? This idea wasn’t rejected, but getting such a road set up and then operating would be predictably — and perhaps prohibitively — pricey.

What about reallocating money from existing tax-increment financing districts? This idea also wasn’t rejected.

Increase the gas tax. Sure, except that Gov. Mark Dayton has said he won’t allow it while he and other DFLers are running for re-election this year.

“We really are turning over every stone and looking both immediately and going forward,” City Councilor Linda Krug, another member of the task force, said. “In the short term it’s harder to be as creative as we might be in the long term. We have this immediate need to fill this hole” created when Fond du Luth stopped sharing casino revenue with the city, despite their longtime agreement to do so.

The short-term solution almost certainly will be painful: a new monthly fee or a hefty tax increase just to get road repairs rolling again. (Unless someone can suggest a better idea.) Duluth taxpayers can hope their community leaders come up with something more creative and more ingenious for the long term.

What do you think?

How should road repairs be paid for in Duluth? Submit a letter to the editor to letters@duluthnews.com.

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