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Local View: Voting for parks system shows our love for Duluth

From the column: "I’m looking at this parks-levy (ballot) question from a community-based lens and ask that you do as well."

Lincoln Park playground
Children enjoy Duluth's Lincoln Park playground in July 2018. (File / News Tribune)
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Let’s talk Duluth, something I love to do. Duluth citizens are a unique kind of people who have many varied interests and different reasons for why we live here. I believe there is one thing we all agree on: our love for Duluth. The pride we feel for Duluth is based in a rich history, and part of that history is our parks system.

As highlighted in the city’s “Essential Spaces: Duluth Parks, Recreation, Open Space & Trails Plan,” Duluth is home to 162 parks, 9,168 park acres, and 353 miles of trails. That breaks down to 106 park acres per 1,000 residents. I’ve served on the Parks and Recreation Commission since 2014, and this data still blows me away. How incredibly lucky we are. I could go on and on about the health, social, and environmental benefits our parks provide; but, honestly, after more than two years of pandemic, we know how important our green spaces are. To Duluthians, our parks and open spaces are essential.

To be good stewards of our parks, trails, and open spaces, maintenance needs to be done, and that work comes with a cost. Long-term maintenance and services to our park system have been an ongoing concern of the Parks and Recreation Commission for at least the last nine years. I can also tell that this is a concern to our community. Whether you have come across a park that is no longer mowed as frequently or a garbage can overflowing, it’s apparent there has been an increase in public awareness around some of our parks and open spaces.

Duluthians are starting to speak up, and we have a chance to fix this in November.

On the Election Day ballot, you will see a proposed change to the Parks Fund levy. I’m looking at this parks-levy question from a community-based lens and ask that you do as well.

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You may be asking “Didn’t we pass the levy in 2012? Why are we restoring the levy? Wasn’t it already set?”

To break it down, in 2012, Duluth citizens voted “yes” to a Parks Fund levy. The Parks Fund levy was intended to save Duluth’s parks, and, for a time, it did just that. Among its many benefits, the Parks Fund levy sustained parks operations and parks maintenance for a decade, and it helped to pay for substantial renovation of more than a dozen parks (including Hartley and Lincoln Park). In addition, it helped pay for the construction of more than a dozen miles of wheelchair-accessible, multi-use trails (including portions of the Lakewalk and the Cross-City Trail) and for citywide youth programming.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Western Waterfront Corridor — the “Waabizheshikana: The Marten Trail” — come to fruition from its conception.

In 2012, if your home was valued at $200,000, you paid $94.53 a year toward our beautiful park system, in accordance with the Parks Fund levy. As my husband would say, “That's less than a dollar per park for most people." A “yes” vote in the November election would raise the floor of investment into our parks by restoring the percentage invested into our parks to the 2012 levels. The effect of this change on a home valued at $200,000 would be to restore the annual tax to what property owners paid in 2012, which was $94.53.

As noted on the city of Duluth Parks and Recreation website, “As the Park Fund Levy rate has decreased as a percentage of taxable property value, the Park Fund Levy tax for a home valued at $200,000 has dropped from $94.53 in 2012 to what will be $58.01 in 2023 if no change is made.” The effect of this change then, on a home valued at $200,000, would be to restore the annual tax to what property owners paid in 2012, an increase of $36.52 a year over what’s being paid now. This would restore the Parks Fund levy tax to its 2012 level and maintain it over time.

You read that correctly. For the cost of one cup of drip coffee a month, we can increase our investment into parks to $4.2 million a year versus the $2.6 million currently.

If the Parks Fund levy passes, where will the investment into our parks go? About half would go to sustain current service levels. The remaining $2 million per year would be dedicated to enhancing the maintenance, repair, and replacement of park infrastructure, including $500,000 per year to enhance routine park maintenance such as garbage collection, mowing, and the replacement of aged park amenities; $900,000 per year to contribute to the complete renovation of priority athletic facilities and neighborhood parks; $400,000 per year to meet local contribution requirements to receive federal and state grants; and $250,00 per year for the protection and restoration of lands that comprise our parks system.

What will we be voting for? If you vote “yes” between now and Nov. 8, you are voting to give the Duluth Parks and Recreation Department a budget that allows for the maintenance and restoration of our parks and athletic fields. You are voting to keep Duluth’s legacy and history alive. You are voting for our community. You are voting for our future.

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And at the modest investment of a cup of drip coffee a month.

Actor Telly Savalas knew how amazing and special our city is. “It’s all right here. Duluth, who loves you baby? I do,” he said in a promotional television commercial in the 1980s. I know you love Duluth, too.

Amanda Crosby of Duluth is chair of the Duluth Parks and Recreation Commission and executive director of Arc Northland (arcnorthland.org), a Duluth nonprofit that promotes and protects inclusion and the rights of people with disabilities and their families.

Amanda Crosby.jpg
Amanda Crosby

LEARN MORE
To learn more about the Parks Fund levy:

** Go online to duluthmn.gov/parks/parkfund/

** Attend a forum about the levy ballot question sponsored by the News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce at 9:30 a.m., Monday (Oct. 3) at The Garden (formerly Grandma’s Sports Garden in Canal Park), 425 S. Lake Ave. Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, parks officials, and others from City Hall are expected to attend to share information and answer questions. If you can’t make it, the forum will be recorded by the News Tribune and available for viewing later, on-demand, at duluthnewstribune.com.

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