Our view: Councilors can further Duluth’s fiscal ‘stability’News reporters work hard to be unbiased, impartial and sans opinions. But even Minnesota Public Radio had to gush a bit last week when reporting about Mayor Don Ness’ proposed 2013 budget. Its story called the spending plan “another sign of Duluth’s ongoing fiscal turnaround.”
News reporters work hard to be unbiased, impartial and sans opinions. But even Minnesota Public Radio had to gush a bit last week when reporting about Mayor Don Ness’ proposed 2013 budget. Its story called the spending plan “another sign of Duluth’s ongoing fiscal turnaround.”
In the news outlet’s defense, the evidence is rather abundant.
At $73.7 million, the proposed 2013 budget is $1 million smaller than this year’s budget. Its levy increase of 1.6 percent (a quite-affordable $7 increase for the average homeowner in Duluth) is the lowest since 2000 — which is more than a decade ago, back when Ness was a first-year city councilor. And the budget marks a fifth straight year of decreases in general-fund expenditures.
All without reducing city services.
Ness recalled the days of “roller coaster” budgets when he presented his budget proposal to the City Council. This is a “no news is good news budget,” he said, according to reporting by the News Tribune’s Mike Creger.
Later, in a meeting with News Tribune editorial board members, Ness said the 2013 budget “represents a hard-earned stability. … There aren’t a lot of big changes, which is what we want and what we wanted to achieve.”
All of Duluth can applaud fiscal stability.
While booing the City Council’s refusal to authorize the transfer of money from the street improvement trust fund to cover a $2.9 million debt payment for past street repairs. Like a bottom line-minding business owner, Ness proposed the transfer in part because money in the trust fund is earning less than 1 percent while the interest the city is paying on the debt is 5 percent to 6 percent. Also, the city’s other option for covering the debt payment is raising property taxes. Going that route would mean the “quite-affordable” levy increase of 1.6 percent would become a burdensome
16 percent tax hike on all property owners in Duluth.
The seven votes needed to authorize the transfer should have been a no-brainer slam dunk, but, inexplicably, councilors defeated the action 6-3. Property-owning taxpayers from Fond du Lac to Lakeside can urge the City Council to reconsider its decision when it meets again Monday.
Ness is certain the council will reconsider.
“I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this because I think (councilors) are going to do the right thing,” he said. “Paying down debt shouldn’t be political. Politics equate risk.”
And risk can jeopardize a community’s ongoing fiscal turnaround.