It was a fast and rather uneventful night in the Duluth City Council Chamber on Monday. The meeting opened with a public hearing on proposed tax increment financing (TIF) for the planned rehabilitation of the former Lincoln Park Middle School into housing units and community space. Mr. Rick Ball from the Housing and Redevelopment Authority and Mr. Andy Hughes of development partner Sherman Associates gave a brief overview and fielded questions, explaining that the lower-than-market-rate rents in the building did not make it financially feasible without tax help. Several Councilors wanted to be sure the TIF qualification had passed a test run by an outside agency, which it had, though the discussion didn’t go much further than that; the public meeting will remain open at the next meeting.
The Council then received updates on various ongoing issues. CAO Montgomery briefed them on frozen waterlines, which have been unusually common this winter due to the cold temperatures, and hoped for some relief in the coming weeks. Councilor Gardner gave a status update on proposed charter revisions to fill Council vacancies; she said the special election changes would be “sticky,” but said the committee had another meeting on Friday. Councilor Larson said that U.S. Sen. Al Franken would be willing to take up legislation on the logging truck rerouting plan when it came forward. The community speakers were both repeats, though Ms. Alison Clark’s continued push for a lakefront Lakewalk by Beacon Pointe included a pointed question over how much a paved path there would cost.
Councilor Fosle pulled one resolution off the consent agenda, but only to offer his praise for the administration: after six years of endless lobbying, the city has finally brought in a consultant to study its fleet services operations. Councilor Fosle has long contended that the city spends far too much in this department, and was pleased to see the review would be done by an out-of-state consultant with no skin in the game. Councilor Gardner thanked Councilor Fosle for his persistence, and Councilor Hanson expressed his confidence that savings would cover the expenditures for the review. It passed unanimously, as did the rest of the consent agenda. The review, according to CAO Montgomery, should be done by the end of summer.
Naturally, the next resolution up was a purchase of several trucks for the city, and a laughing Councilor Fosle turned around and said “this is exactly what I’m talking about,” noting the low mileage on the three trucks being replaced. CAO Montgomery explained that the trucks were high-wear vehicles and that the new ones were slightly larger, while Councilor Sipress gave a nod to Councilor Fosle’s concerns but said he’d show his support for the administration’s planned review by voting in good faith on these trucks. The resolution passed 8-1.
The Council then appointed Councilor Sipress to the Public Utilities Commission, an exercise that involved a lot of repetition of nice words about Councilor Sipress. He committed himself to the Commission for his full term, which pleased Councilor Julsrud; Councilor Hanson terrorized the Council by asking if they’d use ranked-choice voting if someone else were to enter the race, and Councilor Filipovich, now a battle-scarred veteran of the Commission after his appointment two months ago, welcomed the new junior member aboard after a 9-0 vote in his favor.
Once again a grant application for a portion of the cross-city mountain bike trail was on the agenda, and as usual it inspired some mild dissent, with Councilor Hanson joining Councilor Fosle in the ‘no’ column, saying the city’s $63,000 matching contribution would be better used filling potholes. President Krug noted that these funds had to come out of a portion of the parks budget reserved for capital projects, and the resolution passed 7-2.
Two citizen speakers came forward on the next resolution, which implemented a master plan for the Gary-New Duluth Recreation Area; Mr. Dan Hinnenkamp and Mr. Mark Boben, both longtime activists in the area, shared their excitement for the project. Mr. Boben explained that the project would include new soccer fields, picnic areas, a skating rink, a community garden, a dog park, basketball courts, and a skate park—this last feature being one of the highlights, with professional planners coming in to create the design. (Mr. Hinnenkamp said that he’d driven by the current, mediocre skate park recently and saw a group of boys who had shoveled off three feet of snow so they could use it.) Councilor Larson praised Councilor Fosle for his involvement throughout the planning process, and he in turn praised Mr. Boben’s leadership and commitment. The resolution passed unanimously.
In the closing comments, Councilor Russ announced that a plan to formally establish Ranya, Iraq as a Duluth Sister City would be coming forward at the next meeting. Councilor Larson previewed a “trails damage ordinance” she planned to introduce in April, which will seek to educate citizens on how to protect trails and use them as intended. She also asked about results from the recent housing summit, and was promised a follow-up by CAO Montgomery. Councilor Fosle closed the meeting by plugging a steering committee meeting on ATV trails on March 31 at the Fire Training Center at 6:00 PM, and wished his mother a happy birthday and passing along his love.
It was a quick and painless night in the Council Chamber, and even Councilor Fosle, usually in the minority, was all smiles as he moved through a pair of resolutions he’d long worked for. It’s an encouraging sign: it would be easy for everyone else in the room to marginalize him, but instead they’re taking up some of his ideas, and that makes him happy to work with them. The collegial Council will enjoy two weeks off before returning to solve all of Duluth’s ills, and hopefully all the snow will melt away in that time. Perhaps then someone can take down the reindeer and the Christmas tree still sitting atop the fountain in Government Plaza…