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Presidential visit price tag nearly $90,000: City, county bear financial costs for Trump’s recent trip to Duluth

Duluth police officers try to keep the peace between anti-Trump protesters and rally-goers after President Donald Trump's rally on June 20, 2018.Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com1 / 2
The Duluth Police Department maintained a large security detail at the DECC during President Trump's visit. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 2

President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Duluth will cost the city and county around $90,000, including about $46,000 in overtime pay, local leaders say.

In all, Duluth directly incurred $65,971 in staffing costs related to the president’s June 20 appearance at Amsoil Arena, and Wayne Parson, the city’s chief financial officer, said the city will need to absorb those expenses.

Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said the city also will need to reimburse the Superior Police Department for a detail of 21 officers it provided to assist with the event. Although he has not yet seen that bill, he estimated it will add another $6,000 to $8,000 to the tab for the visit.

Former Mayor Herb Bergson attempted to bill the campaign of President George W. Bush more than $11,400 to cover public safety costs incurred during a Duluth campaign stop in July 2004. But Parson said that effort proved unsuccessful to the best of his knowledge, and he doesn’t expect Mayor Emily Larson to repeat the stunt.

Parson said he is aware of no plausible mechanism for the city to seek reimbursement.

“We did not plan for this obviously, so it will definitely hurt our bottom line,” he said.

St. Louis County likely will fare better financially, in terms of recouping at least some of the $17,341 in overtime the sheriff’s department ran up assisting with Trump’s visit to Duluth.

“Fortunately, we are the recipient of a federal grant called Operation Stone Garden, which supplies us with federal dollars to support the overall mission of several federal governmental agencies, and it looks like we’re going to be able to cover most of that overtime expense from that grant. It’s all tax dollars, but if not for that grant we would be relying solely upon St. Louis County levy dollars to pay for that expense,” said Sheriff Ross Litman.

Parson noted that in addition to the police department, the city’s fire and street maintenance departments put in significant overtime to accommodate the president.

Greg Guerrero, Duluth’s manager of street maintenance, said his team helped set up barricades and provide traffic control for the event. He also arranged to have four dump trucks loaded with gravel “to act as moving barricades” to prevent anyone from attempting to ram a vehicle into a crowd. Then afterward, crews had to take all the barricades down.

“It was even more of a challenge because we had just come off Grandma’s Marathon,” Guerrero said. “It was one huge event followed by a second huge event with no time in between for us to catch our breath.”

Localized flooding sandwiched between those two events added to the difficulty, Guerrero said.

Tusken agreed that the timing of the event made for a long haul.

“Grandma’s Marathon is always a significant heavy lift for us to prepare for, and right on the tail of that to go to a presidential visit, when there’s never too much security for the president of the United States. We had people who were kind of haggard from Grandma’s that we right away turned around and put them to work on the presidential visit,” he said.

Parson said the city overtime costs for events such as Grandma’s are built into the budget each year, unlike a presidential visit. The police department will receive $307,100 in tourism tax proceeds this year to defray exactly those kinds of costs.

Deputy Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said the Duluth Fire Department helped plan for the event and developed contingency plans for all sorts of possible emergency situations. Meanwhile, the fire marshal carefully monitored attendance at Amsoil Arena to make sure it was not filled beyond capacity.

A power outage prior to the rally also kept firefighters busy.

“So we had multiple calls for people stuck in elevators, just our daily routine. We also had a car fire that had nothing to do with the president,” Krizaj said.

“Just because you have a big event, it’s still Wednesday in Duluth, and whatever happens happens,” he said, explaining that firefighters needed to remain ready to respond on multiple fronts.

Other agencies assisted with the event at no cost to the city or county, including the Secret Service, the Minnesota State Patrol, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the 148th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Hermantown Police Department and the UMD Police Department

“To some extent, a presidential visit is one of those things where everyone knows the significance and everyone comes together,” Tusken said.

Litman said local authorities had to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

He noted that the Trump visit stirred more concern than perhaps any other recent presidential appearance in Duluth. “But I think that because of the political climate now, the risks are greater,” Litman said.

Trump’s visit marked the third time Tusken has welcomed a president as a member of the Duluth Police Department.

“Each time it was a significant number of resources we used, but I think this last time it was more significant, because we knew from the Bush visit previously that there were a number of areas where we got exposed during that visit, and we had more of an idea what to anticipate moving forward,” Tusken said.

Despite a contentious political scene, Tusken said: “I was very encouraged as I drove and walked around the event to see that, by and large, people were being civil and respectful to others who had differing political ideologies.”

Only two arrests occurred during the visit, and Tusken said those occurred following the rally when a dispute between Trump supporters and opponents appeared close to becoming a physical altercation.

“At that point, if we didn’t take action something was going to happen, so we grabbed onto some folks who seemed to be most agitated and got them out of there,” he said, noting that the arrest ending up being “just a tag and release really.”

But Litman said he was struck by “the overall peaceful nature of the visit and the fact that we had very few issues related to it.”

Even the counter demonstrations were relatively calm, Litman said.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen more people out in Priley Circle there than that day. You know there was speaking and music and what-have-you going on. But it was all very peaceful,” he said.

Breakdown of President Trump’s visit costs

  • Duluth Police OT $21,102
  • St. Louis Co. Sheriff OT $17,341
  • Street maintenance OT $4,290
  • Duluth Fire Dept. $3,417
  • Added city straight time $37,161
  • Superior Police $6,000 to $8,000 (estimated)
  • Total cost $89,311 to $91,311
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