An increase in charges for the annual Duluth Memorial Day parade has put its future into question. Organizer John Marshall said he received notice from the city of Duluth that the fees to host the West Duluth event would be increasing next year from $400 to $1,500.

"For me, it's just a real slap in the face to every one of us who have to live with the memory of war," Marshall said. "In my own personal opinion, I feel like we shouldn't have to pay anything. But to jack it up like that isn't right. There's no profit to be gained here."

Spokespeople from the city did not confirm the amount of the increase in fees, but did confirm that the city is "in the process of evaluating the cost of events," according to a statement from Chief Administrative Officer Noah Schuchman.

According to Marshall, the parade has continued in Duluth for more than 100 years. He and Brad Bennett took over planning it in the past few years and had heard from previous organizers that the city used to pay for the event.

"Prior to 2008, the city always paid for the Memorial Day parade," Marshall said. "Then it got grandfathered in at $400. It was an agreement between the city and the veterans community, but just a verbal one, as far as I'm aware."

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West Duluth Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal Bud Aakhus waves to the crowd from the front seat of a Jeep on May 31, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / File / News Tribune)
West Duluth Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal Bud Aakhus waves to the crowd from the front seat of a Jeep on May 31, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / File / News Tribune)

To offset the $400 cost, Marshall worked with the Duluth Women of Today volunteer organization to manage the parade. But the price increase has prompted Marshall to question the parade's future.

"There are other surrounding cities who would welcome us gladly," Marshall said. "My hope is that it doesn't come to that."

Schuchman said the city's costs for special events in previous years was approximately $170,000, while permits paying for police, fire and street maintenance staffing totaled $55,000. The parade itself cost over $4,000 in 2019.

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"In a time of tight budgets, we are working with Mr. Marshall and other special events to find ways to both make their events successful and responsibly manage public resources," Schuchman said in a statement to the News Tribune.

Marshall argued that the city could cut costs by asking members of the police auxiliary unit to staff the event and by letting volunteers take on some of the street maintenance duties such as setting out "no parking" signs.

The Duluth Police Reserves, a team of roughly two dozen volunteers, helped staff the parade in 2021 by putting up barricades and directing traffic.

"To me, this is unconscionable," Marshall said. "Our war dead are the foundation of this republic. Every freedom we have is on the backs of our war dead. And we come together once a year to mourn their loss and celebrate their memories."

This story was updated at 6:37 p.m. July 29 with information about the Duluth Police Reserves. It was originally posted at 5:09 p.m. July 29.