Duluth renames park, shifts fee to levy
Lake Place Park in downtown Duluth got a new name Monday night, when a unanimous City Council voted to redub it Gichi-ode' Akiing, Ojibwe for "a grand heart place."
In other action, a divided council also voted to support a greater-than-initially-proposed increase in the city property tax next year — a move that would enable Duluth to take another step toward phasing out a monthly streetlight fee residents pay on their utility bills.
New park name
After greeting the Council in Ojibwe, Ricky DeFoe said: "If we're talking about any kind of reconciliation between nations of people and how we relate to one another — kindness and respect and things of this nature — it only seems proper for reconciliation purposes to rename a park."
He noted that the city of Duluth occupies land once reserved for the people of Chief Buffalo, following the Treaty of 1854.
While other names of local monuments, parks and statues pay tribute to white settlers who came to the area, DeFoe said: "Our people, indigenous people, have nothing. ... But things are beginning to change, and this is happening in a good way with the city of Duluth, that trails and things are being named," he said.
Carol DeVerney, a member of Duluth's Indigenous Commission, which has advocated for the name change, referred to the process as "long and arduous." She said the idea has been about five years in the making.
"There was a lot of hoop-jumping. We do have a dance in our tradition we call the 'hoop dance,' and that's how we felt," she quipped.
"But now we're here, and doing this is so important to our Indian community and to the children in the Indian community. They have to be able to see things in the city where they live that represent them — something that they can relate to. Right now there's really nothing," DeVerney said.
City Councilor Gary Anderson thanked members of the Indigenous Commission for bringing the name change proposal forward. He urged follow councilors to support the resolution, as he said: "acknowledging the historical challenges that have faced the indigenous community as well its contributions within the community to all of us here on this reserved land."
Councilor Joel Sipress also said he appreciated the the persistent effort to advance the name change.
"Ricky DeFoe mentioned the word 'reconciliation.' I think tonight, as a council, we're looking to take an important step toward reconciliation and inclusion and justice, because reconciliation requires action, and I'm really pleased that we, as a city, seem to have arrived at a point where we take action," Sipress said.
By a 5-4 vote Monday night, the council amended Mayor Emily Larson's levy proposal, boosting it by $550,000 to a total of nearly $31.2 million. While the revised levy would lead to higher property taxes, it also would also allow the city to ratchet down a monthly streetlight fee residents pay on their utility bills.
That charge would drop from $3.25 to $2 per month for residents, yielding annual savings of $15.
Meanwhile, the bolstered levy would tack an extra $11.35 onto the property tax bill for the owner of a $175,000 home. That's on top of the $20 hike the owner of that same home would face under the mayor's initial levy proposal.
The original levy proposal represented a 3.96 increase in the city's share of property taxes. As amended Monday, that bump would climb to 5.92 percent.
Sipress contends a property tax distributes the financial burden of paying for city streetlights more fairly than a flat fee, where "Everyone pays the same amount, whether you live in a modest house or a mansion."
Councilor Zack Filipovich, who co-authored the amendment with Sipress, said the proposal would keep the council on track to meet its multi-year commitment to phase out and eliminate the streetlight fee by the end of 2019.
"We've been at this for a while, and I hope that we can pass this amendment tonight so we do not keep kicking this can down the road," he said.
But other councilors, including Council President Noah Hobbs, have expressed concerns that the timeline to eliminate the streetlight fee may be too aggressive and should be revisited.
Voting for the levy amendment were councilors Filipovich, Sipress, Anderson, Barb Russ and Em Westerlund.
Voting against it were Hobbs, Arik Forsman, Jay Fosle and Renee Van Nett.
The amended levy ordinance now reverts to a first reading and will not be ready for council action until a second reading occurs. The council must set the levy before year's end.