Duluth mayor: AmeriCorps partnership to bring $1M in services to kidsIf you notice an uptick in the number of kids in Duluth’s parks this summer, you can call it extra tax dollars at work.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
If you notice an uptick in the number of kids in Duluth’s parks this summer, you can call it extra tax dollars at work.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness announced a new partnership with True North AmeriCorps as part of his annual State of the City speech Monday night at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
AmeriCorps’ work within schools is well-known, but the city wants to help with after-school programs and summer activities in an effort to tie together all the efforts into improving children’s lives. Ness expects 81 AmeriCorps members providing 140,000 hours of service at parks, youth clubs and libraries.
“It’s a bridging of what they do with schools and the youth with our youth centers and parks,” Ness said before the speech Monday. In his speech, he said the promises made to citizens who voted for a tax increase last fall will come to fruition.
“We have dual goals,” he said, “of getting kids active and engaged in our city parks but also to address on-time graduation, the achievement gap, and providing those critical connections between a child’s life in school in afterschool programs and in home life.”
Voters approved an increase in taxes in November in creating a dedicated fund for parks in the city. That freed up money in the general budget to keep the city’s three libraries open more days with longer hours.
Much of the parks money is going into youth programs, some that have fallen dormant in tough financial times.
Ness says $150,000 toward federal grants will result in $1 million worth of service in the community.
Blair Gagne, program director of True North AmeriCorps, said the work his troops do will be familiar but the amount of work will be noticeable.
“There will be a lot more people out there working with kids,” he said. “It’s basically more time for out-of-school and summer programs.”
Specific projects that might result from the partnership are still being worked out. More details are expected at Wednesday’s Parks and Recreation Commission annual meeting. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the new police station at 2030 Arlington Ave.
The core of AmeriCorps is tutoring and mentoring children.
Gagne said the Grant Recreation Center will be open more often and the Boys & Girls Clubs groups will be more active.
New grants for projects
Ness also announced Monday a $50,000 fund for neighborhood parks and recreation projects and initiatives. He hopes the money will bolster already proven volunteer programs such as the Chester Bowl Improvement Club and Keene Creek Youth Organization.
Grants of up to $5,000 will be available.
“We know that $1,000 in the hands of an active neighbor group can result in 10 or 20 times that much value,” he told the Lake Superior Ballroom audience.
The partnerships are some of the many the mayor mentioned in his 28-minute speech that was broadcast live on local television.
Retiree health savings
He thanked the team that worked to get the city’s retirement health plans in line, a project that was rewarded with a state Supreme Court decision in favor of the city’s consolidation of plans to bring costs down.
“That task force was the most important volunteer effort in our city’s history.”
Ness said he wanted to talk about the historic pension plan at the top of his speech since the news from the court was a bit muffled last November amid news of the continuing legal battle with the Fond-du-Luth Casino and the Thanksgiving holiday the next day.
“It got very little play,” he said before the speech. “It’s one of the most significant things” accomplished in the past year, he said.
Ness did not mention the casino and its insistence that it will no longer share revenue with the city. He also touched only lightly on what was the bulk of his speech last year, the city’s infrastructure and specifically its water and sewer pipes.
He said both of those issues are in too full motion to chronicle in the annual speech. He said making a goal on the casino approach might not fit a strategy that is still evolving.
“There is a lot of focus on that but we’re in mid-stream,” he said. “There’s new stuff popping up every day.”
Rental housing, civil service advances
Ness thanked the City Council for its past five years of making tough decisions. He specifically pointed out reforms in the city’s housing rental rules and civil service hiring.
“In the middle of these debates, emotions run high, fears of the unknown seem larger than life, and relationships struggle under the strain of disagreement,” he said. “But once the changes have been in place, the benefits of reform become clear and the fears often never materialize.”
Ness said he is encouraged by the better financial picture for the city and a growth in jobs.
He praised businesses that have hired workers and kept Duluth’s unemployment rate down despite a national recession and a 22 percent cut in jobs in the public sector.
“Private sector leaders and entrepreneurs are creating jobs, investing aggressively in their Duluth-based businesses and competing nationally and internationally from Duluth,” Ness said.