New office furniture for 10 Duluth city workers: $90,000Duluth’s city administrators are looking for approval to spend more than $90,000 on new office furniture for about 10 city employees — a plan drawing fire from some members of the City Council.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth’s city administrators are looking for approval to spend more than $90,000 on new office furniture for about 10 city employees — a plan drawing fire from some members of the City Council.
The furniture would be used by the Parks and Recreation Department after it moves from the Central Hillside Community Center to the ground floor of City Hall, space to be shared with a new Parking Department. The area previously was headquarters of the Duluth Police Department before it moved to the new Law Enforcement Center on Rice Lake Road, which has new furniture.
Most of the Police Department’s old furniture was beyond salvage, city administrators say. But that doesn’t justify the price of the new purchases, argue some city councilors.
“Simple math tells you it’s excessive,” said At Large Councilor Jim Stauber. “Everyone needs a good work space, and you can get a pretty decent desk, chair and filing cabinet for $1,000 to $1,200. But $9,000 to $10,000 per person? Come on.”
District 4 Councilor Garry Krause also criticized the spending, saying that when city administrators were angling to build the new Law Enforcement Center, the City Hall space was characterized as virtually unredeemable.
“Suddenly, we’re talking about remodeling and reusing space that was considered uninhabitable for the police,” he said. “The city said it didn’t have the money to remodel and reuse the space for the police, but now suddenly we have the money to remodel the same space for Parks and Rec?”
David Montgomery, the city’s chief administrative officer, defended the new furniture, saying that putting seven Parks and Recreation employees and a handful of parking staff members in the old Police Department space is significantly different than trying to accommodate a 130-member police force.
“Keeping police in that location would have been orders of magnitude harder. It didn’t work for our police, but that space can work for other purposes,” he said.
Montgomery also said reclaiming the oddly configured space comes with certain challenges.
“One difficulty when you’re dealing with modular furniture, is that you need to build it into the space you’re in,” he said.
Though the council has to approve the furniture purchase, Montgomery and Director of Public Administration Lisa Potswald said the money to redo the City Hall office space already was budgeted as part of the Law Enforcement Center project.
“We’ve been working for the past 1½ years on a master space plan for City Hall to make the building more user-friendly,” said Potswald, adding that Hillside Center space — including its existing furniture — will be leased to 1Roof Community Housing, a collaboration of Neighborhood Housing Services and the Northern Communities Land Trust.
Regardless of where the money comes from, Stauber said he considers the proposed purchase unwise.
“Just because it got into the budget doesn’t mean it’s not wasting money. These are tough times for the city. We don’t have any casino revenues coming to us anymore. There’s no money for needed street improvements. And yet we’re talking about spending $90,000 on this furniture. I don’t understand it,” he said.
The Duluth City Council is expected to vote on the furniture request when it meets Monday.