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In light of public concerns raised about the proposed purchase of riot gear for local law enforcement officers, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken has put the acquisition on hold, at least for now. The city's capital equipment budget for next year had included an $83,700 placeholder for the purchase of protective equipment and crowd-control batons. But several people questioned the allocation at a Monday night City Council meeting, suggesting that such equipment could be deployed against groups engaged in peaceful protest.
If Duluth's Lester Park and Enger Park golf courses continue to operate as they have in the past, they're projected to lose $108,000 next year, adding to the $2.2 million in operating debt the pair of municipal courses already has amassed. That's the unvarnished picture Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of public administration, painted for the Duluth City Council at a committee-of-the-whole meeting Monday evening. "Duluth golf is a great Duluth tradition that's facing real and daunting challenges for which there are no easy answers," he said in a Tuesday interview.
Several people took the Duluth City Council to task Monday night for earlier passing a proposed capital budget that includes more than $83,000 in funding for riot gear next year. "It is deeply concerning to me to see northern Minnesota making a significant purchase and use of resources towards purchasing riot gear," said Tara Houska, who identified herself as a long-time resident of the area and participant in the anti-pipeline protests at North Dakota's Standing Rock Reservation.
The Duluth Police Department plans to purchase about $83,700 worth of riot gear next year and another $41,500 in 2019. Items on the shopping list include helmets, leg/knee pads, chest protectors, elbow pads and other protective equipment. "We call them turtle suits, because they make you look like those turtle guys," quipped Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken, making an apparent reference to the animated armor-clad Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But there's nothing funny about the sorts of situations that would prompt police to deploy such gear.
The city of Duluth is looking to revise a controversial data practices policy. David Montgomery, the city's chief administrative officer, has advised Duluth City Council members of plans to reduce charges the policy had established for people who make public data requests. The policy, which was administratively adopted on Nov. 22, proposed to charge $35 per hour for any staff time required to fulfill a data request, although the city would provide up to 15 minutes of work free of charge.
A Duluth hoarding case has been resolved, at least for now. A duplex in Duluth's Central Hillside neighborhood had been condemned for habitation in November, after Greg Smith, a housing inspector for the city's life safety division, deemed the upstairs unit a fire danger due to the amount of clutter it contained.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson proposes to hold the line on tourism tax spending next year. The budget she has proposed for next year assumes no growth in tax collections from local hotels, motels, restaurants and bars. That's not to say she believes the city's tourism industry will stagnate, but Larson said she has chosen to take a conservative approach to allocating funds, after this year's proceeds came in a bit softer than projected.
A new data practices policy quietly appeared on the city of Duluth's books the day before Thanksgiving — more than four months after city administration withdrew a resolution proposing a similar fee for requests. The new policy would charge people nothing for any request that takes 15 minutes or less to fulfill. But requests that require more time would be billed at a rate of $35 per hour after the first 15 minutes. If a request necessitates the services of a city attorney, it would result in a $155 fee after the first half hour.
The Duluth City Council signed off on Mayor Emily Larson's budget proposal by an 8-1 vote Monday evening, with 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle dissenting. Two separate motions to amend the budget failed for lack of support. Councilors Joel Sipress and Em Westerlund proposed to redirect $175,000 the mayor had earmarked for street improvements to preserve two record-keeping positions in the police department and one parks maintenance position, but their amendment failed by a 6-3 vote, with 1st District Councilor Gary Anderson joining them in the minority.
The Bulldogs have been angling for an extra home-ice advantage recently. When Amsoil Arena was completed in 2011, the University of Minnesota Duluth entered into a 25-year contract with the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to lease the facility for the use of its men's and women's hockey programs. UMD would pay the DECC $227,573 in December of 2010, with that fee set to escalate progressively through the 25-year life of the agreement. By the final year of the contract, UMD would pay more than $898,000.