Mayor proposes massive cuts to balance City of Duluth budget

Duluth Mayor Don Ness warned last week that his budget process would be painful not only to city employees but to the city as a whole. He wasn't kidding.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness warned last week that his budget process would be painful not only to city employees but to the city as a whole. He wasn't kidding.

On Monday, Ness presented sweeping cuts to the city budget to recover from a

$4.4 million deficit. But Ness noted that even if every one of his dozens of his proposals was implemented, the city still would be short by $922,000, meaning that even more cuts would be necessary.

Among the most significant of the proposed cuts:

* Close the Human Rights Office and Office of Sustainability


* Turn zoo operations over to the Zoological Society and eliminate the vacant zoo director position

* Close a fire hall -- though a specific one has not been designated -- as well as eliminate a downtown engine

* Close one-third of all community and recreation buildings and decrease the number of ice-skating rinks

* Close Washington Pool

* Combine the Parks and Recreation Department with the Library Department, eliminating a department director

* Reduce the aquarium subsidy by $100,000

* Eliminate all city-run adult leagues

* Require community development, work development and PACT-TV to pay rent and expenses out of their budgets


* Reduce fuel consumption by 15 percent

* Use Housing Investment Funds to support sanitary sewer overflow fixes for private residences

* Eliminate subsidies for the Duluth Sister Cities commission, Grandma's Marathon, John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and the North Shore Inline Marathon

* Implement an administrative fine system to get more revenue from parking tickets

* Eliminate lifeguards at the Park Point Beach area

* Eliminate and sell the Parks and Recreation Department's Fun Wagon

Ness also is proposing several ways to increase city revenue, including:

* Increasing the amount charged to park at metered spots downtown by 50 percent


* Selling city buildings and assets, including the Endion Depot and terminating agreements with the Endion Addition

* Charging employees for parking personal vehicles while reducing the number of take-home cars

* Enacting a luxury tax on energy use for big energy users

Ness previously said that he wanted to see $2 in cuts for every $1 in new revenue.

But his plan is heavy on the cuts -- either a 4-1 or 9-1 ratio, depending on the comparison.

Even some of the smaller proposed cuts still would have an effect on numerous residents: Certain parks and trails would be taken out of service, though specific ones were not named; the free public wireless system at Canal Park would be eliminated; the trash at city parks would be picked up less frequently and the start-up and winterization of drinking fountains would be discontinued; and some automatic alarms would be ignored, to name just a few.

Ness said that no department was spared, including the Police Department, which will see four positions held open and the reduction of police sergeants through restructuring.

Ness said he recognized that many people would be angry with the proposals, but he said they were necessary to help the city keep pace with what has been increasing demand for services despite a reduction in staff.


"Previous administrations tried to limit the impact on residents as much as possible," he said. But his budget proposal "is a reflection that the strategy of [limiting] the impact on the services provided is no longer viable."

In addition to the budget proposals, Ness said that the $2.5 million sale of a steam generator and $500,000 in other revenue would allow the city's reserve budget to hit

$4 million, or about 5 percent of the minimum balance. That number will be scrutinized by bond-rating agencies as the city prepares to borrow more than $40 million for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center next month.

Ness said if the cuts are implemented, there would be a light at end of the tunnel by as early as 2010.

"We'll have a passed budget that doesn't result in mid-year deficits and we're forced to make additional cuts to personnel and services," he said.

The City Council will be presented with a resolution during its next meeting on June 19, asking for its support of the budget changes. Ness said if they balk at a particular item, they'll have to come up with another way to reduce expenses.

"There needs to be a recognition that we need to implement these cost savings as soon as possible," Ness said.

Some already are scoffing at the proposals, including Duluth Fire Marshal Erik Simonson, who said the proposed reductions in the Fire Department are too drastic.


"They'll lead to lesser response times to the downtown area and less response times to outlying areas," he said.

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