After delaying action on a resolution in support of Mayor Emily Larson's plan for how to divvy up millions of dollars of federal pandemic aid two weeks ago, the Duluth City Council unanimously voted in favor of a slightly revised version of her proposal Monday evening.
An amended version of the proposal was successfully introduced by councilors Gary Anderson, Zack Filipovich, Arik Forsman and Derek Medved. They shifted some money the mayor had previously earmarked for affordable housing to public safety and economic development.
Filipovich explained why they dedicated an additional $600,000 to a public safety social worker pilot program, for a total investment of $2.1 million "to frontload that program and make sure that it has the best chance of success to make that into a full-time, full fledged program." He said the amended resolution also directs an additional $500,000 to the Duluth Economic Development Authority "to support businesses in our area who have obviously been hit hard by COVID-19."
Anderson said: "We have an opportunity tonight to really vote with our dollars for the values that we hold as a community. I want to start up by thanking Mayor Larson and her administration for bringing forward a powerful original resolution with suggestions for us."
Forsman noted that the $678,000 in crisis intervention training proposed for first responders over the next three years would represent a 667% boost to the Duluth Police Department's current training budget and a 1,333% increase for the Duluth Fire Department.
"So, this is a huge step forward in making what I believe is a statement about the need to invest in training. And also, we're going to have to figure out what to do once this money runs out after three years, and figure out a sustainable path forward, which I'm committed to, as well," Forsman said.
The city proposes to spend $19.2 million on affordable housing and emergency shelter services, $12.9 million on public works and utilities and $12 million to improve ventilation and air-handling systems at City Hall, where poor air quality and a lack of air conditioning has long been identified as a public health problem in need of attention.
Other smaller-ticket expenditures would include $2 million to improve parks and recreational areas in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and $1.5 million to recapitalize Duluth's 1200 Fund, which offers financial support to local businesses still struggling to bounce back from the economic challenges of the pandemic.
The spending also includes a $4.2 million reimbursement to the city to make up for lost tax revenues associated with the coronavirus outbreak.
The federal support Duluth and other units of local government are now receiving through the American Rescue Plan is long overdue and badly needed, in the eyes of 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress.
"So, this came to us as a portion of a much broader American Rescue Plan. States and cities received funds through the Rescue Plan, and a lot of funds, because none of the prior bills that were passed last year provided much of anything for states and cities that were affected tremendously by the pandemic. And when states and cities are affected negatively by a pandemic, it affects the community negatively. So, we received this funding to address the fiscal impacts, the financial impacts of the pandemic as a city, and to give us the resources that will allow us, as a community, to emerge from the pandemic stronger than we went in," he said.