THE ISSUES: What should our tax dollars go to?


Taxes are increasing left & right, with many Duluthians arguing they’re paying too much. Everyone wants to know what projects their tax dollars are going towards. Setting aside current tax-funded projects – give us at least two examples of the main things our tax dollars should support.

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Emily Larson’s Response
“Great question. How we spend our money matters. So budgets are a reflection of our values as a community, as a family. In your own family budget.

So a couple of pieces of information. When you pay a dollar of your property tax, $0.27 of that goes to support the City. I think that’s important for people to know. $0.40 goes to the County, $0.30 goes to the school district, $0.27 goes to the City. So I’m happy to talk about that $0.27. And without question, we have asked residents to invest more as the cost of living has gone up.

I believe we’re delivering really important and good value there. We are making sure that people have parks and libraries. We are ensuring that when you apply for a business expansion, you’re getting permitting and you’re getting support from staff. We are providing public safety services, you know. All of that is, I think, really important to talk about.

My opponent will speak often about property taxes and we should. What he won’t tell you is that in his five years as a City Councilor, he voted to increase your property taxes 52%, 52%, while also adding a $5 monthly streetlight fee, while also transitioning Spirit Mountain and the Zoo off of the City budget. So 52% growth plus a streetlight fee.

Part of my tax approach has been to bring that all back. There’s no more fees, right? A big part of the property tax plan that I set out was to roll that unfair fee back into the property tax. So I think that’s important.

I believe that two of the things that people really deserve is clean water and the infrastructure to get through their day. And so for me, that is the utility, that is the water work that we’re doing. Those are the streets that are also being funded separately through that half percent sales tax. And I believe public safety is always paramount. It’s always important to make sure that we have safe communities, but safe communities also require things to do and places for people to be and connect.

So I am a fierce champion of also funding things like our libraries and libraries hours and services, and our parks. These are spaces and places that are incredibly important to the culture of a community and send a very strong message about what the supports that a city offers. It’s neighborhoods very holistically.”

Roger Reinert’s Response
“Sure. You know, and I’ll give you three streets, utilities, public safety. When we’re doing those core services, well, right next to that is our parks and neighborhood community centers. I mean, these are the things that people expect from their local government and it’s what they expect from paying local property taxes.

You know, almost ten months into this, two things have really surprised me. Number one, it’s not that people are as much concerned about what they’re paying. Certainly they are. But they are really concerned about people feeling that they’re paying a lot in property taxes. And city services have actually diminished.

So number two, what that is, is an issue of trust with local government. We have to re-earn our citizens trust by doing the basics and doing them really well. Streets, utilities and public safety, effective, efficient and at a rate we can both afford and sustain.

And then we as City leaders have to say, where is our fiscal discipline? You know, we have seen the city general fund going from $80- to next year, a proposed $108 million, and yet we’re not delivering on those core services. You’ll hear the 850%, you know, New Street Miles. Well, it’s going from 2 to 17 when we have so many more to do. And when we also think about those other core city services, those are where people are asking questions.

So then we also look at, okay, we’ve gone from $80 million to $108 million. We also have a healthy budget reserve. We also have a community trust fund and we still have $24 million of $58 million in American Recovery Act dollars. We have almost an entire year’s general fund on the sidelines. So the question is why? Why do we still need to do a 9% property tax levy last year, a proposed 2% property tax next year levy, when we have those fiscal resources at our ready?

So what I would say to taxpayers is we have to do the basics. We have to do them really well and we have to regain your trust as taxpayers. And once we’ve done that, then we can talk about some of the other issues that you might hear in this campaign or in other State of the City speeches or things like that. But you do the basics and you do them really well so that then you can talk about the other things that people legitimately do care about in our community.”

Thursday night on WDIO News at Six, we ask about affordable housing. Each candidate outlines their thoughts about locations we have to create affordable housing.