Our View / Duluth City Council: Don't take away tax break, even if modest
From the editorial: "For taxpayers citywide, the hard decisions already made in response to the council’s December decision demand to be maintained."
After valuation increases translated to property taxes hikes across Duluth, after the county and school district and city all passed higher tax levies, after a year of record inflation drove up prices for everything from groceries to gas to medications, and after enduring other pocketbook challenges, including a rate increase from Minnesota Power, Duluthians could appreciate the vote of the Duluth City Council in December to cut 1% from the 2023 city property tax levy.
Councilors trimmed Mayor Emily Larson's proposed 8.9% levy increase to 7.9% — a modest reduction, but at least it was something.
This week the mayor asked councilors to take it back — a gut punch to Duluth property taxpayers, and it was something, too: something else.
In a letter to councilors Wednesday, Mayor Larson laid out how city department heads have been working to “cut equally ($42K+) across all departments” and how they were striving “to mitigate impact when possible.” She warned that councilors “may feel surprise at the cuts being proposed” to absorb that 1% less in levy increase.
And then she made her request, asking councilors to “reconsider these cuts” and to “choose instead to support utilizing American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to supplement this 1%.”
The mayor further pointed out that, in addition to the availability of federal ARP funds, “we have had very positive movement on LGA happening in St. Paul,” a reference to local government aid our city and others receive from the state to help offset the burden and expense of being a regional hub. “The current proposal has Duluth receiving a $5+ Million increase, indexed with inflation moving forward,” she wrote. “The 1% cut from this year’s budget can be absorbed by a small portion of the anticipated increase in LGA moving forward. This is information that was not available in December and is significant in impact.”
The mayor is correct, of course, that a portion of anticipated LGA increase, and the one-time American Rescue Plan money, could be used for more spending. But taking away a tax break, even a modest one, is a tough sell to Duluthians and our heavy and getting-heavier tax burden.
To live more in line with the city’s means, hard decisions clearly are being made, department by department. The council’s direction and 1% consideration of all that Duluth taxpayers have been through and are still going through are clearly being followed. But those hard decisions should be the norm in City Hall — and in the chambers of all our governing bodies.
For taxpayers citywide, the hard decisions already made in response to the council’s December decision demand to be maintained. Any reconsideration or adjustment can happen during the next round of budgeting work that’s to come later this year.
The mayor additionally said in her letter, “The budget is something we all work hard on, pay close attention to, and prioritize.”
Duluthians can appreciate that. But we can also call on our councilors, as they consider her request, to remember the testimony of Duluth pastor John Ansell, who told the council in December: "To have (my property valuation) raised as well as taxes raised, it almost feels like we're getting hit twice and punished twice."
The City Council, working with city administration, needs to ensure now that its actions don’t result in constituents getting hit or punished a third time.