DULUTH – City leaders are proposing up to 15% increases for police officers, larger training budgets for police and firefighters, and ongoing funding for a community crisis response team paid for with a Much larger property tax hike than presented earlier this month.
“One of our top priorities is public safety,” said Duluth City Council President Renee Van Nett. “Today we’re going to go beyond saying these things… and we’re going to really put things in action and in motion.”
The budget plan unveiled at a press conference Thursday afternoon will add an almost 4% increase to the 2022 levy on top of the 6% increase proposed by Mayor Emily Larson earlier this month.
In total, that equates to an increase of about $ 27 in annual property tax payments for the owner of a median-priced home in Duluth, according to city estimates. The mayor’s initial levy proposal would have seen a $ 3 increase for the average homeowner.
The updated plan would also address a looming health care cost crisis in the city resulting from unsustainable increases in insurance rates over the next few years, which would create a budget deficit of nearly $ 20 million by now. 2026.
Raises for city workers – largely paid for with one-time US bailout money – are being offered in exchange for renegotiated health care plans that unions representing city workers are expected to agree to.
“The path we’re on doesn’t lead us to maintaining service levels, doesn’t lead us to financial security; it leads us to bankruptcy,” Larson said. “This is one of the strongest and most exciting financial plans we have for a sustainable, stable and strong future in this community.”
The 2023 levy will likely increase more than next year to meet those targets, but council member Arik Forsman said taxpayers could see savings in the years to come.
Council members Zack Filipovich and Janet Kennedy are proposing a further increase of $ 325,000 in the levy for a city housing trust fund.
State law states that cities must set their maximum levy by the end of September of each year. A final budget vote in December could see a smaller levy, but it cannot exceed what Duluth City Council approves at its Monday meeting.
While it seemed likely that the $ 38.6 million levy would pass given the support from board members reported at a committee meeting on Thursday evening, there remained uncertainty as to the final budget composition and the new proposals.
“Everything related to wages and benefits is pending negotiation,” Forsman said.
The police pay
Compensation for Duluth police officers ranked last of 33 Minnesota law enforcement agencies surveyed in a recent legislative audit. The proposed increase of 15% aims to adapt remuneration to the size of the city and to better compete with a shrinking pool of candidates.
“This is a critical time for recruitment and retention,” said Sgt. Matt McShane, Executive Board Member of the Duluth Police Union.
The budget plan also includes $ 100,000 each for Duluth Police and Fire Departments specifically for training. Currently, the annual training budgets for these agencies are $ 15,000 and $ 7,000, respectively.
Response to the crisis
Originally intended to be a three-year pilot program paid for with $ 1.8 million in federal coronavirus relief money, the city is now proposing to permanently set aside $ 600,000 per year for a disaster response team. crisis that is still developing.
The goal is to send unarmed civilians to respond to situations that do not require police intervention, whether they are mental health crises or drug addiction or housing issues.
“Everyone needs to be sure that they can safely ask for help in a crisis,” said Gary Anderson, Board member. “The model we are working on will be a valuable resource that will make Duluth safer for everyone.”
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496