Council Approves ESST Changes, Denies Vacation Rentals

Baihly Warfield
Updated: May 14, 2018 11:16 PM

DULUTH, Minn. - People stood against the walls and around the back of the very warm City Council chambers Monday night as councilors picked up the proposed Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance again, making what could be some of the last changes to the policy before a vote. 

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Two amendments were approved. The first, presented by First District Councilor Gary Anderson, changed the rate of accrual to one ESST hour for every 50 worked. It passed 5-4. 

"I think it reaches a solid middle ground that the advocates for Earned Sick and Safe Time should be proud of," Anderson said while offering his amendment.

He said the 1-for-50 accrual sets a minimum, so if employers find the 50 hours cumbersome administratively, they could choose to adopt a 1-for-40 policy. 

Fifth District Councilor Jay Fosle, who is opposed to the ESST ordinance as a whole, said that at least this amendment shows the council has listened to the business community.

The other amendment, offered by President Elissa Hansen, exempted seasonal employees who work less than 120 days from the ESST policy. Hansen's amendment passed 6-3. 

Councilor Joel Sipress, Second District, expressed that he wants ESST to cover as many people as possible, and exempting seasonal workers would create an inequality. 

The amendments mean a final vote can't happen until the next meeting.

ESST proponent Ashley Northey said she is angry, not at individuals on the council, but because she is disappointed in another two weeks' delay of a vote.

"We have waited for the council to develop a task force. We have waited for the task force to deliberate and make recommendations. We waited again to hear the task force recommendations," Northey said. "And now we're waiting one more time to hear amendments brought forward that were already presented and voted down."

Scot Jenkins, a business owner with locations in Wisconsin and Michigan, told the council that he will not expand the business to Duluth. He cautioned the council not to confuse activity with results.

"There's been no analysis that I've seen -- and I've looked through almost everything that's been published on this -- there's been no analysis I've seen to stratify results of the survey against controlled factors like what happens to the company that has 40 part-time employees as opposed to the company that has 20 full-time employees," Jenkins said.

It appears councilors will be eyeing a May 29 vote on the final ESST ordinance.

Vacation Rentals

In another controversial Duluth issue, councilors chose not to increase the allowable number of vacation rental units in the city. 

Currently, vacation rental permits are capped at 60. An ordinance up for a vote Monday would have increased that number to 114 over the next few years. However, that proposal failed 4-5. 

Third District Councilor Em Westerlund said she believes there is a place for vacation rentals in Duluth, but she worries that they are not spread out enough. 

"My concern and the concern that I've heard from constituents is that the density and the sort of focused placement of these units in just a couple of our neighborhoods has caused some degradation of the neighborhood," Westerlund said. 

She said vacation rentals are especially concentrated on Park Point and in the Central and East Hillside neighborhoods. 

Other councilors said increasing vacation rental permits made sense because the owners are paying taxes, and those units may be more family-friendly for visitors. 

Grand Avenue Nordic Center

More than a dozen cross-country ski enthusiasts turned out to thank the City Council for its support of a project near Spirit Mountain. 

Resolutions approving the Grand Avenue Nordic Center's budget, accepting a donation from the Duluth Cross-Country Ski Club and discouraging further development of that area all passed. 

Skiers said they hope the new trails will open up the sport to a whole new group of people. 

Housing Tax Credits

The Council also voted to support five projects' attempts to secure state and/or federal housing tax credits.

Projects at the Washington Studios, Board of Trade building, Brewery Creek building, Decker Dwellings and the old St. Louis County jail all got council support to seek the tax credits. 

Sipress explained that their votes do not commit any city money to the projects but only indicate they support the pursuing of state funds. He said the projects need council endorsement in order to compete for the dollars. 

Husky Refinery

Chief Administrative Officer Dave Montgomery updated councilors on Duluth's communication with Superior post-Husky Refinery incident. 

Montgomery said that communication and information flow is a big deal. He said fortunately during the fire, winds were blowing south. Had they shifted, as they were expected to overnight, Duluth could have faced a difficult situation. He told councilors that Duluth officials were considering an evacuation of western Duluth neighborhoods.

According to Montgomery, Duluth leaders are also working with Superior leaders and Husky officials about safety concerns surrounding hydrogen fluoride.


Baihly Warfield

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