Duluth city council debates solutions for street funding

By KBJR News 1

April 24, 2014 Updated Apr 24, 2014 at 8:57 PM CST

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- If you've driven around Duluth it comes as no surprise that many streets need to be repaired.

Thursday night a proposal was brought before the city council that would implement a street maintenance fee for residents and businesses.

They say one of the issues is how to make up for the $6,000,000 a year the city used to receive from Fon-du-Luth Casino revenue.

But the problems don't stop there.

The city still has old street debt that needs to be repaid, which they say isn't easy to do with the lost funding from the casino.

Some city officials say implementing a street maintenance fee would create a funding bridge for the streets program until a final resolution of casino litigation is made.

Some goals of the street improvement program are to create a dedicated funding source, pay old street debt back with Community Investment Trust fund money, replenish the CIT with $12,000,000 court-ordered dollars of recovered casino funds, and provide enhanced street maintenance.

Councilors had mixed feelings on the proposed fee.

"We've looked at both a fee and a property tax increase, and at the moment we are leaning towards a fee and that's because we can implement it more quickly," said Duluth city councilor Linda Krug.

"I'll never support a fee or a tax to fund these proposed street repairs," said Duluth city councilor Howie Hanson.

"I personally like a tax more than a fee because I think a lot of people would prefer the tax because you can deduct it," said Duluth city councilor Barb Russ.

Officials say with enhanced street maintenance there would be three "crack-sealing" crews, and five pothole patching crews, over a 15 mile stretch of Duluth.

The street improvement fee would likely cost $8.50 per month for a single residential property, and if passed, can be implemented as early as mid 2014.

A public input process must be completed before the council defines the program and sets the actual fees, if they choose to go that route.

If the council approves of the plan there will then be a 30-60 day implementation period, followed by enhanced street maintenance and finally reconstruction.