Mayor Emily Larson Defends 2018 Proposed Budget Cuts

Larson: Officers, Firefighters Won't Lose Jobs

DULUTH, Minn. – Duluth Mayor Emily Larson is defending her 2018 budget proposal that includes $2.1 million in cuts spread out throughout all city departments. Mayor Larson told FOX 21’s Dan Hanger Monday that nobody wants cuts and cuts are stressful, but she says that doesn’t mean her office should avoid the problem, especially with aging streets and infrastructure – infrastructure that is being paid for through the general fund used to operate the city departments like police and fire.

“It’s not that I don’t understand that. It’s that these are still the limits of what we have available right now. And my goal is to get us out of this. And it’s not a one-year fix,” Larson said when acknowledging the pressure cuts put on departments.

The police and fire departments are facing a combined cut of $711,800, which the presidents of the police and fire unions are strongly against.

Mayor Larson stresses the cuts will not remove officers from the streets and will not lay off firefighters or close any fire stations.

But she stresses this does involve tightening the belts.

“The money is not there to meet all of the real basics that we need to do as a city,” Larson said.

Part of the problem, according to Larson, is a $3.2 million deficit going into 2018 and the never-ending financial battle to Band-Aid fix severely crumbing roads.

“We have got to get streets out of the general fund because as long as we are paying for streets and everything else from [the] same resources, they are always going to be competing interests,” Larson explained.

This is why Mayor Larson has proposed the half-percent sales tax increase to specifically fund street repairs, which would add and estimated $7 million of additional revenue every year.

“Streets need dedicated new revenues to meet those needs,” Larson said.

This is on top of a proposed $1 million increase to the $2.8 million currently coming out of the general fund each year for streets.

“We aren’t getting bailouts from the state and federal government. It’s not happening. And that’s ok. They have their own needs to work on. We are working on ours,” Larson said.

Larson hopes one day to not touch a dime of the general fund for streets, which she says would likely bring back funds to departments facing cuts today.

“I don’t think the public wants to do this every year. I really don’t.  I think they want the reliability of streets. I think they want the reliability of services. I do, too. Here’s a path to get there,” Larson said.

Mayor Larson’s budget also includes a four percent property tax increase to help balance the budget.

That increase would mean roughly $21 more a year for a home worth $160,000, according to the mayor’s office.

City councilors will set the maximum operating levy for 2018 at next Monday’s council meeting on Sept. 25.

The final budget will be voted on Dec. 11.   For the proposed 2018 levy and general fund budget, click here.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Mike Tusken released the following statement for this story:

Police will be fully staffed in 2018 and currently are in the process of hiring up to 15 new officers to meet our authorized staffing of 155 officers.  Current vacancies are from retirements, projected retirements and resignations. Our staff has worked towards more than one scenario to reach our target budget and the final decision will be made in early October.

Beginning in the end of last year, we engaged in a strategic planning process that included participation from staff and the community.  One critical identified need coming out of the process is the necessity to find and implement operational efficiencies to better keep up with the demands upon our time.

We are in the process of evaluating and implementing changes in work schedules, assignments, work flow, and technology so we are able to continue to provide the highest levels of safety and service to our community; even in times of tightening budgets.  We also know our community support and focus on building relationships in the community is a force multiplier for us to be more effective at problem solving and prevention.

No leader likes the idea of a shrinking budget, whether it be in the private or public sector.  As chief, it is of paramount importance to me to keep the community and our staff safe.  I know our preparation and planning has created a solid foundation where we are positioned well to continue to provide safety and service to and with our community.

Categories: Community, News, News – Latest News, Political, Public Safety