Fractured Duluth City Council recommends tourism reportA divided City Council voted 6-3 on Monday to recommend Duluth city administration consider and follow the recommendations of a somewhat controversial tourism tax task force report.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
A divided City Council voted 6-3 on Monday to recommend Duluth city administration consider and follow the recommendations of a somewhat controversial tourism tax task force report.
That report called for Visit Duluth to foot the bill for a third-party review of its operations, including recommendations for how the organization can be improved.
The task force recommended that only one year of funding for Visit Duluth be approved, while other recipients of tourism tax proceeds would receive a three-year commitment. Future allocations of funding to Visit Duluth would be contingent upon the organization submitting to a review and responding to advised changes.
Tony Bronson, chairman of Visit Duluth’s board of directors, said he was surprised by the scrutiny focused on the organization by the task force report.
“The results of Visit Duluth have been outstanding by any measure,” he said. “The report seemed almost punitive.”
Councilor Jackie Halberg, who served on the task force, stressed that the resolution presented nonbinding recommendations to city administration. She suggested the task force recommendations could stir a healthy examination of Visit Duluth’s operations.
“I’m really hoping this is the beginning of a conversation. I think it’s an opportunity, and I don’t want to lose sight of that,” she said.
Councilor Dan Hartman, who also served on the tourism task force, attempted to amend the resolution in regard to its treatment of Visit Duluth, saying: “I didn’t agree with some of those findings.”
He suggested any organization that annually receives $100,000 or more in tourism taxes be subjected to the same review process, rather than singling Visit Duluth out for special treatment.
Hartman proposed an amendment that would have stripped out some of the concerns about Visit Duluth identified by the task force.
Councilors Jim Stauber and Jay Fosle voted in support of his amendment.
Stauber questioned why Visit Duluth should be targeted when it has helped Duluth continue to expand its tourism industry even in a down economy.
“Visit Duluth clearly has been the goose laying the golden egg, and we are punishing Visit Duluth for all the good work it has done,” he said.
Linda Krug, a member of the tourism tax task force, urged the council to forward the body’s report to city administration in its entirety rather than in some sort of watered-down form.
“Who knew that a call for a simple review would generate such pushback?” she asked.
Voting to forward the task force’s full report to city administration were councilors Jeff Anderson, Patrick Boyle, Tony Cuneo, Todd Fedora, Sharla Gardner and Halberg.