David's Blog

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Enough Already: Contesting the Council's Tax Increase

Last year, the City of Superior did not increase its portion of the local property tax levy – nor did St. Louis County. In contrast, the City of Duluth raised its portion of the local property tax levy by 5.7%. Duluth’s increase was dangerously close to being even more painful. Encouraged by Mayor Bergson, councilors Greg Gilbert, Laurie Johnson, Donny Ness and Russ Stover advocated hiking the city’s portion of the local tax levy by 20%. These councilors indicated that mandating a 20% increase would create fewer problems than would the cutting of government services. Thankfully, the remaining five Duluth city councilors disagreed with councilors Johnson, Ness, Gilbert and Stover and voted down the 20% increase. They settled on the 5.7% increase - 5.7% more, remember, than in either Superior or St. Louis County.

Fast forward to today. The City of Superior is proposing to raise its portion of the local property tax levy by 1.6% in 2006. St. Louis County is proposing a 5.2% increase for 2006. In contrast, the Duluth City Council is proposing an 11.5% increase in 2006.

Let’s do the math. If things go as planned, the City of Superior will have a total increase of 1.6% in its portion of local property taxes over a two year period (2005 – 2006). St. Louis County will have a total increase of 5.2% over two years. In contrast, the City of Duluth will have a 17.2% increase. The only comfort to be found in this potentially numbing 17.2% increase is the fact that it could have been worse! If councilors Gilbert, Johnson, Ness and Stover were not outvoted last year, their proposed tax increase of 20% would have combined with this year’s proposed increase of 11.5% for an alarmingly high, jaw-dropping combined increase of 31.5% over a two-year period.

I am frightened. You should be, too.

If you own a home or business in Duluth, the tax collector will soon be banging on your door. He wants more of your money – and he is getting bigger and nastier. The majority of Duluth’s city councilors apparently truly believe that hiking the taxes on your home would be better than looking for additional efficiencies within city government.

What are the City of Superior and St. Louis County doing right and Duluth doing wrong? They are exhibiting leadership, restraint and discipline. They are asking themselves: “What city and county services are essential to citizens?” They are also asking themselves the difficult but necessary question: “What city and county services are not essential and, as a result, can be reduced or eliminated?” They are asking themselves: “Have we exhausted all other options before reaching into the taxpayers’ pockets for more money?” They are asking: “Can some city services be more effectively provided through the private sector?” The majority of Duluth’s city councilors and our mayor have shirked this responsibility.

Fellow Duluthians, we are being led astray. The majority of Duluth city councilors apparently believes – and would have us believe – that the city simply cannot add the police officers and fire fighters we want without increasing taxes by 11.5% in 2006. This is a potentially costly falsehood. Thankfully, two city councilors are the voice of reason and clarity on this issue. These councilors know the city can add to our police and fire protection without a concurrent increase in taxes. Last week, Councilors Tim Little and Jim Stauber were the only councilors who voted against increasing the city’s maximum levy limit increase of 11.5%. Tim Little and Jim Stauber should be applauded for exhibiting the restraint, discipline and insight that precludes their becoming unwitting transmitters of the falsehood. These councilors realize that the most effective way to bring more resources to public safety is to reallocate resources within city hall.

It is time for a call to action. Fellow Duluthians, there is still an opportunity to contest the proposed 11.5% increase. The city council will not finalize the city’s 2006 operating budget until December 16, 2005. If you disagree with the plan to increase the city’s portion of the local tax levy by 11.5%, make your voice heard. If you believe the city’s plan to add the 11.5% to last year’s increase of 5.7%, totaling 17.2% is too onerous – make your voice heard. If you believe there is room for efficiency within city services – make your voice heard. Unless there is a collective outcry against the tax increase, you can bet it will occur, and we will all be the more burdened because of it. Email the councilors at council@ci.duluth.mn.us.

Make your voice heard.

posted by David Ross at

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