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City of Duluth gives update on voting, COVID-19, and financial impacts

City of Duluth gives update on voting, COVID-19, and financial impacts Photo: WDIO-TV file

Updated: May 20, 2020 07:54 PM

Mayor Emily Larson said this summer will be different in Duluth during the virtual weekly city update Wednesday.

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"The financial reality we are in suggests what we have felt and known which is that we are in this on our own at this point and we will continue to make the decisions that we need to be able to provide the services you rely on," said Larson.

Larson said data from the Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota suggests we will see a COVID-19 surge in July. She said in the next 12 to 16 months about 29,000 Minnesotans will die from COVID-19. Larson said 88 percent of Minnesotans, which is more than 5 million, will get COVID-19.

City Council President Gary Anderson said every city employee will be affected one way or another by budgetary challenges the city is facing at the moment. He shared that he is taking a voluntary 10 percent reduction in his council pay for the remainder of 2020 and invited colleagues to consider doing this as well. For now, he said council members will meet virtually through summer break.

Anderson also said we all have a responsibility for public safety and must take action in order to limit COVID-19 outbreaks in the community. Larson also said she joins Anderson in the voluntary 10 percent reduction in her salary.

City staff said they are in need of volunteers for the boards and commissions and are encouraging folks to get involved and apply online.

Larson also shared an exciting project for youth called Duluth Youth Mask Project. This effort encourages kids to create their own designs for face masks in an effort to normalize masks for kids. The city is participating with local schools and hospitals for this effort. They encourage kids to take pictures with their mask and share them on the City of Duluth Facebook page. Some of them will be selected to be displayed at City Hall.

City of Duluth Director of Administrative Services Chelsea Helmer said the city is strongly encouraging the public to vote by mail for the upcoming elections and said folks can submit applications to do that now. Helmer said ballots will be mailed out at the end of June and said voters have until election day to return their ballots. They are anticipating a high volume of people voting by mail for the year.

Helmer also announced a proposal for city council to consider reducing liquor license fees for the 2020-2021 licensing period and making code changes to help businesses as they start to reopen to better accommodate social distancing. Helmer said they will be bringing this proposal forward to consider at the upcoming city council meeting.

City Council member Arik Forsman gave an update on the 1200 fund, which provides emergency relief for small businesses. He shared that the board has completed funding of $1.3 million to 138 local businesses in Duluth. For those who weren't able to get help from the fund, the city will be providing technical support and encourage businesses to reach out to them about this.

Chris Fleege, the director of planning and economic development, said DEDA and city council approved moving forward with making a small business emergency fund program, which allocates $400,000 for businesses to apply for starting today. Fleege said they contracted the Entrepreneur Fund to manage the application processing and said businesses have until Friday to apply for this.

Fleege also said there will be hosting a webinar for the public regarding the potential conversion of 1st Street from one-way to two-way traffic flow. The meetings are on May 27 and May 28 at 4:30 p.m. 

To join, go to: https://duluthmn.webex.com/duluthmn/onstage/KrisLiljeblad The event Number is 471 170 542 and password is 6224.

Noah Schuchman, the city administrator said the city is taking a look at their COVID-19 preparedness plan. He said so far only a limited number of staff returned to the building. They are taking a phased approach and for now city buildings will be closed until June 1. Schuchman said moving forward, everyone will be required to wear face masks in city buildings.

Other topics included playgrounds. City staff said they won't lift the closure of playground before July 1 because they have reduced staff and it is challenging to keep up with sanitizing those facilities as needed to keep people safe.

Filby Williams said they are doing maintenance and other projects to ensure playgrounds will be safe once they reopen.

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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