Column: Sharing our street repair bill

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Imagine, for a moment, you are a Duluth city councilor. You have the power to decide how Duluthians will fund our much-needed street improvement plan. The annual price tag is approximately $7 million.
You understand that Duluth property owners pay for our city streets. You must decide how to distribute, among these property owners, what will certainly be an unwelcome and unpopular expense.
Angry homeowners have been letting you know how upset they are with the potential of paying more taxes, or a fee, for street repairs. You must determine how much each homeowner and each commercial property owner will pay. Add to your challenge the fact that you are up for re-election in November. What would you do?
You are a conscientious councilor. You have done your homework. Your research illustrates there are 24,200 residential units in Duluth. If each homeowner or renter is a registered voter, these constituents could represent 24,200 voters.
Conversely, there are only 3,815 commercial properties in Duluth. If each commercial property owner is a registered voter, these constituents represent just 3,815 voters. They are only 16 percent as large as the homeowner voting group.
I suspect you are motivated to keep this unpopular expense as low as possible for the 24,200 homeowners. Yet, to do so, you must concurrently vote to have the remaining 3,815 commercial property owners pay proportionally more.
At the time of this writing, the City of Duluth is proposing an average street maintenance fee of $5 per month for each home and apartment. Conversely, it is proposing a monthly fee of $20 for small commercial properties, $90 for midsize commercial properties and $240 for large commercial properties. Ouch. The owner of a commercial property may soon be paying $2,880 more each year for the street improvement plan.
It is easy to see why business owners will pay more. Doing so allows homeowners to pay less. It is fair? I believe that most homeowners are happy to have business owners pay proportionally more of the tab; business owners, not so much.
As an advocate for the Chamber’s 1,100 members, I simply want every Duluthian to understand how businesses lift up our beloved community one tax and one fee at a time. Businesses pay more for all of our city services. In doing so, homeowners pay less. I am hopeful that our community’s collective awareness of this simple fact will increase. Additionally, it would be wonderful if our community’s appreciation for our businesses and our business owners correspondingly increased.
Have you hugged a Duluth business owner today? Now you will understand if you see a Duluth city councilor doing so.

David Ross is the president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at 740-3751 or dross@duluthchamber.com.