The Duluth Parks and Recreation Department has lost full-time and seasonal employees due to budget cuts over the last few years. Because of the cuts, the maintenance of the parks and trails in the city has relied heavily on the work of volunteers.
“It’s a nice partnership. I can’t say enough how wonderful our volunteers are,” said Kathy Bergen, Parks and Recreation manager.
Even with the help of volunteers, some facilities in the parks have fallen in to disrepair and the programs offered through the parks system have all but disappeared. The Parks and Libraries Referendum on the Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011 ballot looks to help repair the parks facilities and revive some of the programs that have been lost due to budget cuts.
“It’s critical for the city on all different fronts. We have first world places with third world facilities,” said Mayor Don Ness.
The referendum will cost the average Duluth homeowner about $5 a month. The money from the referendum is aimed at making improvements to the city parks and trails. Improvements such as renovations to existing facilities, new bathrooms, and way-finding signs for the parks are all possibilities if the referendum were to pass.
“This isn’t designed to hire more city workers, it’s designed to make as much improvements to our parks as possible,” said Mayor Ness.
The Parks and Libraries Referendum is not the only referendum that will be on Tuesday’s ballot. The Duluth School District is asking for an increase in funding also. The ballot has a three-tiered question for voters that could result in an increase from $365 per pupil to $871 per pupil. This would result in a $171 a year increase in property taxes.
Duluth City Councilor Jim Stauber believes that the timing of the Parks and Libraries Referendum will be tough on taxpayers.
“To throw on a parks referendum is a lot to ask of the people, especially when we’re looking at high unemployment,” said Stauber. “This is probably a bad year for it.”
Stauber is not optimistic the funds that would be raised by the referendum will go to the right place. Stauber says that there is no guarantee that the money will go to the parks or the libraries that are under threat of closure.
“Maybe it will be the parks at first, then it will be something related to the parks, then something that is related to something that is related to the parks,” said Stauber.
Eric Viken, the treasurer of "Vote Yes for Parks and Libraries", believes that the referendum is vital to the parks and trails of Duluth. Viken says that the referendum will help stop the decline of the Duluth parks and trails.
“It is important for the long term sustainability for our parks. It will insure some level of stable funding for our parks,” said Viken. “(Approving the referendum) is the single most important thing someone can do for our parks.”
Viken believes that if the Parks and Libraries Referendum fails, it will be a huge blow to the city of Duluth.
“It will certainly be a huge missed opportunity,” said Viken. “Parks are a huge reason why people move here. For the way of life.”