The condition of our city roads and streets impacts Duluthians, citizens of neighboring communities and tourists. Duluth serves as a regional center with more than 35,000 daily work commuters and 6.7 million annual tourists. We all utilize and benefit from Duluth’s transportation infrastructure.
Consequently, it is reasonable that all of us – residents, citizens of neighboring communities, and tourists – contribute to the investment in our roads and streets. Our roads and streets are our shared challenge.
Conversely, if the cost of adequately investing in our roads and streets is solely placed on Duluth’s property owners, it is projected to increase our property tax burden by approximately 40%. Owners of industrial and commercial property will be the most severely impacted and burdened.
There are approximately 450 miles of city owned roads and streets and more than 400 miles of city sidewalks. Yet, current city funding generated by property taxes allows for only a few miles of replacement and repair each year. This neglectful stewardship cannot continue. The annual dedicated funds for our roads and streets has proven to be woefully inadequate.
We need to do better.
Fortunately, Mayor Larson and her colleagues at the city’s public works and utilities department have developed what they purport to be a comprehensive and practical long-term program for investing in our roads and streets. It is titled, the Duluth Street Improvement Program. This program includes a determination of the minimum revenues necessary to address our city’s most pressing transportation needs over the next 25 years. Each year, it will generate an estimated $7 million. These funds will be dedicated solely to repairing and improving our roads and streets.
As previously emphasized, the unacceptable condition of our roads and streets is, in part, due to heavy use by persons from neighboring communities and tourists. As a result, the most reasonable and equitable source of necessary funding is an increase in the city’s general sales tax. A 0.5% increase in our city’s general sales tax, for a term of 25 years, would be dedicated in its entirety to pay for a portion of the cost necessary to maintain, improve and replace our city’s roads and streets.
To enact this proposed sales tax, Minnesota State Legislature authorization is required. Before requesting such authorization, the state requires that approval of the tax imposition be approved by voters of the city at a general election. Thankfully, this requisite vote occurred in November 2017. Duluthians voted for the proposed 0.5% sales tax dedicated to fund the Street Improvement Program by a 76% majority.
This clear mandate from our community is a powerful tool for persuasion. Mayor Larson and the Duluth City Council will herald this mandate while requesting the legislature to authorize the implementation of a 0.5% increase in our city’s general sales tax to be used exclusively to fund the implementation of the Duluth Street Improvement Program.
If approved, the Duluth City Council will be empowered to enact the new tax by ordinance. Once enacted, this dedicated sales tax would be implemented for up to 25 years.
As a reference point, the legislature has approved similar dedicated sales tax implementation for counties and cities. Hermantown and Proctor recently were approved to implement 1% sales taxes. Three years ago, St. Louis County activated the state approved, county sales tax to meet St. Louis County’s transportation infrastructure needs. During these three years, the county has invested $15 million in county owned roads and streets located within the City of Duluth.
It is time we implement a shared solution to our shared challenge. This is why the Duluth Area Chamber’s Board of Directors endorses, and will advocate for, Minnesota State Legislature approval of the Duluth sales tax increase of 0.5% contained in the Duluth Street Improvement Program.
Let’s fix our roads and streets.
David Ross, President & CEO