Duluth City Council to debate Lakewalk smoking banWhen the Duluth City Council meets tonight, it will take up a couple of resolutions designed to polish the community’s image.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
When the Duluth City Council meets tonight, it will take up a couple of resolutions designed to polish the community’s image.
Councilors will consider whether to ban smoking on the Lakewalk, and they may authorize the city to boost its budget in hopes of making Duluth more attractive to both developers and employers.
Councilors Patrick Boyle and Jim Stauber have introduced a resolution that would forbid the smoking of tobacco or other substances, such as synthetic marijuana or “bath salts,” within 6 feet of the Lakewalk or Lake Place Park.
Stauber said a couple of considerations prompted his support of the measure.
“Last year, when Duluth East opened in its new location, I got a handful of complaints of students smoking on the Lakewalk, forcing people to go around them and leaving their cigarette butts to litter the path,” he said.
Stauber also said there have been issues with patrons of the Last Place on Earth, a downtown head shop, smoking synthetic marijuana or chemical crystals sold as “bath salts,” another mind-altering product, at nearby Lake Place Park.
“That’s not very conducive to tourism or to Duluthians looking to get out and enjoy the Lakewalk,” he said.
Stauber said most of the response he has had to the proposed new smoking restrictions has been positive. But he said he also has heard from others who think government shouldn’t further restrict outdoor smoking.
Councilor Sharla Gardner has proposed an amendment to the resolution that would forbid the smoking of synthetic marijuana and “bath salts” on the Lakewalk but would still allow for the use of tobacco.
Councilor Jennifer Julsrud has introduced an amended resolution that would authorize increasing the city budget by $230,000 next year to fund two new positions and expenses as the city boosts its efforts to bring more development and jobs to the community.
Of that sum, $90,000 would go to hire an additional staff person in the planning department. The remaining $140,000 would go to pay for another business development position and to step up the city’s marketing and recruiting efforts, as it works to boost local employment.
“We’ve made economic development one of our top priorities as a council, and we’ve seen a net loss in the number of jobs in Duluth in the past year,” Julsrud said. “I believe we are elected to ensure the budget reflects our needs.”
Council President Dan Hartman praised Julsrud’s amendment, saying that Duluth has just two business developers on staff, whereas cities of comparable size have seven to 10 people working in that role. He noted that back during Mayor John Fedo’s administration, the city had 10 people working in business development.
Hartman said additional staff in the planning department also would help speed development.
“If we can make Duluth a better place for business, let’s do it,” he said.
But the budget increase could set the stage for higher taxes. To pay for the new budget items, the resolution would authorize an increasing the city’s levy by an additional 1.22 percent. That would equal $5.20 a year for the owner of an average-value $158,000 home in Duluth, Hartman said.
On top of a 1.6 percent increase proposed by city administration, that could yield a 2.8 percent total increase in the city levy.
Hartman said it’s possible the city could pay for the budget increases Julsrud has proposed without increasing its levy accordingly, if it can find an alternate funding source or savings elsewhere in its operations. The city won’t set its actual levy until a later date, but is now establishing the upper limit of what could be spent.
Stauber said he supports the idea of dedicating more resources to business development, calling it “a noble cause.”
However, Stauber said: “I won’t support it if it means raising taxes. If we can fund it by reducing expenses elsewhere, that would be fine, but I don’t want to increase the levy.”
The council meets at 7 p.m. today at Duluth City Hall.