2006 was a year of mixed results for Bergson, city
Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson was busy in 2006. Here's a list of major projects in which he and his administration were involved: Unfunded liability Bergson and his administration created their own plan for how to solve a $309 million problem, create...
Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson was busy in 2006. Here's a list of major projects in which he and his administration were involved:
Bergson and his administration created their own plan for how to solve a $309 million problem, created by health-care obligations to city retirees over the past two decades. But the administration was helped, and at times pushed into action, by local civic groups and an independent task force on the issue.
Bergson borrowed the task force's framework for much of his plan. But critics say his proposal still won't fully fund the liability and relies too heavily on the decisions of future mayors and City Councils. For his part, Bergson has said he wants to try to keep as much of the burden as possible off the average taxpayer.
To solve the retiree health-care problem, the city and its advisers decided to eliminate guaranteed benefits for future hires and increase the financial contributions of current employees and retirees. Bergson said the tough choices he's had to make during contract negotiations have damaged friendships with many city workers.
His team managed to come to terms with four of the city's five unions. Negotiations with the largest unit, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, remain unresolved.
Salvation Army officials, volunteers, Bergson and his staff devoted many hours to making the $50 million community center a reality. After many delays, the City Council pledged more than $7 million of city money and sold land at Wheeler Field for the project.
But Salvation Army officials in Chicago still haven't given their final blessing or their $40 million share of the cost of building and operating the center.
Legislative losses, hopes
Gov. Tim Pawlenty and lawmakers failed to approve a new $67 million arena at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, despite Bergson's lobbying and Duluth voters agreeing to increase taxes on restaurant and bar tabs.
The governor and Legislature also didn't approve creating an irrevocable trust fund for the city, which supporters said could have halved Duluth's unfunded health-care liability.
Last year's losses in St. Paul laid the groundwork for both projects. Pawlenty and lawmakers say they are poised to get both issues pushed through in the new session, which began Wednesday.
Chief Administrative Officer John Hall lost his interim tag and will stay at least until Bergson's term ends. He has been a key player at the negotiation table. Bergson also named 34-year-old police Lt. Gordon Ramsay as chief. Ramsay said a priority is beefing up community policing efforts.
Bergson initially threatened cuts in all city departments that would eliminate jobs for up to 30 employees. The City Council restored police and firefighter positions that would have been lost.
At the start of 2006, the city had budgeted the equivalent of 886 full-time positions. It has 860 in its 2007 budget.
Seventy-four employees retired this year, many to take advantage of the city's generous retiree health-care benefits before they change. With the departures, the actual number of full-time employees probably is fewer than 820. There won't be new hires until Hall completes an analysis of positions.
Heritage Sports Center
Hockey boosters, city leaders, school officials, donors and a private developer unveiled an ambitious plan for a center for high school hockey and other sports. But more money must be raised, and project leaders haven't broken ground on what is supposed to be the replacement for Peterson Arena, destroyed by an explosion and fire in 2004.
Following through on a Bergson pledge, the city built a $1.3 million West Duluth police substation and emergency operations center on Grand Avenue. Forty officers will be based there; it's scheduled to open next month.
Bergson made a surprise announcement that he wouldn't run for re-election, saying it was the right decision if he was to succeed in reining in the city's health-care liability and keeping the budget manageable. While Bergson continues to say that his political career will soon end, more than a few in local political circles speculate he may reconsider.