Mayor Again Asks Duluth Council To Avoid Budget Cuts, Use ‘Rescue Plan’ Funds

DULUTH, Minn. – Mayor Emily Larson is speaking up — through an email to councilors — about this year’s $383,000 in city wide budget cuts. She’s urging them to avoid the cuts by using American Rescue Plan funds.

The $383,000 handles the one-percent levy cut the council made last December in Larson’s proposed property tax levy increase, which she said did not cut staff or public services in the status quo budget.

The request to council is in a formal amended budget ordinance for the upcoming city council meeting on Monday.

In the meantime, Larson’s administration will be presenting the council the specific budget impacts of these cuts during Thursday’s agenda session.

Larson asked the council last year to use American Rescue Plan funds, but that was voted down.

The breakdown of cuts for each department is below, including the Duluth Police Department at $98,000, followed by the Duluth Fire Department at $72,000 and Parks and Libraries closely behind at $53,000.

Police: 98,402

Fire: 72,407

Transfers and Other Functions: 56,388

Property, Parks & Libraries: 53,098

Public Works and Utilities: 39,492

Administrative Services: 22,568

Legislative and Executive: 15,109

Planning & Construction Services: 14,677

Finance: 10,807

The city told FOX 21 the calculations reflect an even percentage across all departments based on the size of their budgets.

Police and fire have the largest budgets within the city.

The Duluth Firefighters Local 101 has been most vocal about the cuts by telling FOX 21 the cuts will affect staffing and safety.

Below is Mayor Larson’s full email to the council Tuesday morning:

Good Morning President Kennedy, Vice President Randorf and Councilors,

Thank you for your service and dedication to Duluth.

I write today with information on the budget.

As you know, last December, council voted to make a 1% cut in the Property Tax levy with savings realized through cuts across all departmental budgets. I know and appreciate that this was done with consideration to the impact on tax payers.

On Thursday we will present the result of these budget cuts and the impact on city services and staffing levels. Thank you for the opportunity to do so. While you may feel surprise at the cuts being proposed, know that city staff and department heads are currently following council directive and the approved budget ordinance. On paper that ordinance appears to cut equally ($42K+) across all departments; however, through floor amendments and conversation of that night, it was clear that the $382,950.00 cut would be applied and implemented proportionally to all budgets. Should you choose to revisit the discussions of that evening, audio and video can be found here:

Knowing that department heads and directors understand their budgets best, they are leading the budget cut decisions within their own departments. They have all invested a lot of time since December to mitigate impact when possible and I thank them for that difficult work.

I am hopeful that, as you take in the information, you’ll reconsider these cuts and choose instead to support utilizing American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to supplement this 1% for 2022. To that end, an amended budget ordinance is on the agenda for your consideration which does just that. City staff and I ask for your support.

While ARP was an option several councilors discussed last December, it was not chosen by the majority of council due to it being one-time money for ongoing staff and programming needs. Since that time, we have had very positive movement on LGA happening in St. Paul – the current proposal has Duluth receiving a $5+ Million increase, indexed with inflation moving forward. The 1% cut from this year’s budget can be absorbed by a small portion of the anticipated increase in LGA moving forward. This is information that was not available in December and is significant in impact.

Additionally, it has come to light that there are questions about my Mayor’s Office budget, and I’m happy to provide information about accounting choices which I believe provide budgeting clarity. In my seven years as Mayor I have chosen to add one 13 hour per week position to my department – this position serves the Human Rights Officer. All other positions either previously existed or were moved from other budget areas to better reflect workload accountability and to be more transparent.

There are currently six positions in the Mayor’s office, and here are how they each budget out:

  • Administrative Assistant: fully, and always (as far back as we can tell) funded by the Mayor’s Office.
  • Human Rights Officer: Established in the 2001 through ordinance. In 2016 I made the decision to bring this into my budget. Previously it was in Human Resources or Attorneys. This position reports to BOTH Mayor and Council – not to HR and not to attorneys.
  • Human Rights Officer Administrative Support: this is a NEW position I created in 2019 at 13 hours per week; funded by my office.
  • Public Information Officer (PIO): In 2016 when I took office I combined two full time communications positions into one. Previously, there was one full time communications staff budgeted in Parks and Rec and one full time communications staff budgeted CAO + Economic Development. In practice, these two positions did comms across all departments, except Police (which has their own PIO budget line) and the library. Combining these two positions (one was vacant since 2014) into one position and moving it to my budget is a transparent delineation of work activities.
  • Community Relations Officer & Communications and Policy Officer: a citywide voter referendum on November 3, 2009 approved these two positions – which are now included as part of the official City Charter. They are currently funded through the Mayor’s office, as they have been since 2009.

Thank you, again, for your attention to budgeting and city services and for your dedication and service to Duluth. I know and understand that the budget is something we all work hard on, pay close attention to and prioritize. I hope this information is helpful and I hope you’ll choose to support ARP funding for 2023.

Please let me know if you have further questions before Agenda Session or Monday,


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