Informational session held for Duluth’s Park Fund Referendum

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In 2011, a Park Fund levy of $2.6 million was passed by city council, the mayor, and a majority of Duluthians. 

“What the Parks Fund does for us is it ensures that we have dedicated funding only to parks,” said Parks and Recreation Manager Jessica Peterson. “So while 2.6 was never intended to be the end all, be all total amount needed for a park system, what it did was it saved our ability to take care of our park system and to begin to slowly reinvest in it.”

On November 8th, there will be a ballot measure to have the Park Fund cost a fixed percentage of property value instead of a fixed dollar amount. 

“Ten years ago, if you owned a $200,000 home, you were paying about $96 a year for this parks’ property tax. The value of that has gone down while the value of your home has gone up,” explained Mayor Emily Lason. “So now those same homeowners paid $58 a year, and we think that that homeowner probably still values parks as much as they did ten years ago. And, you know, contributing through a fully dedicated property tax that can only be used for parks is a really important option to give voters.”

To provide background information and answer any questions about the referendum, the city held an informational session at Morgan Park on Tuesday. 

“Our best hope is really just to provide the information people need so that on November 8th or any time before then, people feel armed with the information that makes sense for them to cast a ballot,” said Mayor Larson.

Duluthian Josef Decker attended the informational session with his mother. He plans on volunteering time to spread awareness about the referendum.

“I love parks, I love hiking,” said Decker. “That’s one of my favorite passions, so I just wanted to come here and really find out ways that I could help out support this campaign for the Parks Levy Fund and just learn more about what’s going on.”

The city has had difficulty keeping parks maintained as the set amount for the park levy is not enough. 

“Right now, the current park levy is set at $2.6 million. That’s a flat amount. It doesn’t grow over time despite new development or new opportunities in the city,” said Peterson. “So it provides only foundational funding for our park system. Over time, what we’ve seen is costs increase and the availability of funds to reinvest into our park therefore has shrunk. For example, our capital improvement budget, which used to stand at about $1,000,000 a year to reinvest into our park system, has slowly shrunk each year, and what we’re looking at next year is only about $250,000 per capital investment citywide.

This investment decrease stood out to Duluth City Council Vice President Janet Kennedy.

“I have a small nonprofit that does community development work and health equity work, and we spend 200,000 a year on programs. Think citywide, if we want to be equitable in building our parks, which builds our families and our youth, we need to have more money. $250,000 is not a lot of money,” said Kennedy. “This referendum would increase that and double that for our community.”

The increase in property tax is a concern for some residents who are opposed to the referendum. Those in support believe the increase is worthwhile. 

“I grew up in the park system and if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am today, you know, serving as a District City Councilor,” said Kennedy. “I will ask people to vote for it because I think it’s that important, but it’s their choice. If they don’t, that’s okay.”

There will be two more informational sessions, as follows:

  • Wednesday, October 19 from 12:30pm to 2pm at Harrison Community Center
  • Friday, October 28 from 8:30am to 10am at Portman Community Center