Duluth Mail Bag: Lower Taxes, Viewsheds and Roundabouts

Hobbs Mail BagAs a two-time Duluth city councilor, now in my final year of service, one of my goals is to make city government more accessible, or at least help citizens become more informed. I figure there are many Duluthians who would like some simple answers to some simple questions. I learned in school that if there is something you don’t understand it’s likely there are many others who feel the same way. Hence the idea of the Duluth Mailbag column.

I won’t divulge who is asking the questions, but I’ll answer them in this format about once a month. Feel free to put a question in the comments for next month’s “Duluth Mailbag” or tweet me via @Hobbs_Duluth or email me at hobbsforduluth @ gmail.com.

Also, if you want to have a longer conversation, you can sign up for a 45-minute cup of coffee through my 100 Cups of Coffee project.

OK, here we go!

Are there any benefits to roundabouts?

There are many benefits to roundabouts. They are safer for both motorists and pedestrians. WDIO did a good story about the benefits of roundabouts – follow this link to learn more!

How far does my view go?

I am assuming that you mean looking out your window or onto your property. It ends where the property line ends. There have been several legal proceedings that confirm this. It can be a touchy subject in Duluth. Some folks are lucky enough to get a view of Lake Superior from their home (many are not, however). And when development occurs there is often an email to the council about “how is my viewshed not protected?” The simple answer is that you don’t own what your eye can see sitting on your deck or your living room. I would highlight though that there is a Lakewalk that is accessible and free to everyone and allows everyone access to lakefront views.

What is the city of Duluth’s relationship with the DECC?

A state statute created the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center as a public authority. Four of the board members are appointed by the governor of Minnesota and seven are appointed by the mayor of Duluth. However, the city does not have a hand in the operations of the DECC. It is independently run. In the event that the DECC were to cease to exist, the city would take ownership of the facility. Being a public authority the DECC can bond for projects like Amsoil Arena for example, as well as updates and repairs to the building. The DECC doesn’t have a taxing authority like the Housing and Redevelopment Authority of the Duluth Transit Authority, so there are differences in how some of our authorities operate from one another.

What is the difference between the “agenda session” and the council meeting on Monday?

Good question! The agenda session is the meeting on Thursday before the Monday that there is a council meeting. At the agenda session, the council sets the agenda for the Monday meeting. The expectation is that councilors read the agenda on the Wednesday that we receive it. If there are any specific questions not answered by reading the agenda, they are asked at the agenda session. The agenda sessions are good to listen to if you want to know what the conversation around a topic was like. And then the council meetings on Monday are reserved for making the case for voting for or against an item on the agenda. By watching the agenda session you will find out quickly which councilors are doing their homework and which ones are not.

I want lower taxes!

Look, everyone wants to pay less for everything. I get it. Here are really the only two paths to lower taxes.

You can cut services. This would look like having fewer plow drivers, lower quality parks, more deferred maintenance on buildings, more potholes, fewer police officers, fewer firefighters, fewer librarians, or fewer books at our public library.

In general, growth is beneficial when it comes to offsetting tax burdens, but not all growth is created equal. While single-family homes are great (I live in one!), one-offs here and there don’t substantially offset your tax burden. It is possible to decrease the tax burden by increasing the population density on a smaller parcel by building up the structure.

You want only single-family neighborhoods you say? To live in a low-density city, you’ll either have to pay higher taxes or cut services.

The combination of low density, stable or improved services, and low taxes isn’t possible. Here is a nice ven diagram illustrating the different scenarios.


What makes a good councilor?

That is a loaded question. There are many traits that make someone a “good” councilor. But I think one of the big ones is being naturally curious about how the world works around you. No one has all the answers, and being able to be curious and figure out how things work is a big one. Being a collaborator is important. You’re a vote of one on the council and need a minimum of four or more to get something passed. Of course, there are a lot more traits that are valuable, but these are the big ones.

Why are you done?

As Louis Brandeis said, “the most important political office is that of the private citizen.”

And also six years is a long time! It takes a lot of time if you are committed to the role. I’ve accomplished everything that I set out to accomplish in city government. I’m not a lifelong politician. I’m actually quite introverted. Public office isn’t something I ever thought I’d pursue. I am glad I did, and it has been an incredible experience. Change is good, and I can be more impactful not as a councilor on many issues I am passionate about.

How many miles of water pipes does Duluth have?

A lot — nearly 435 miles worth of water lines. St Cloud has 305 miles and Rochester has nearly 500 miles.

1 Comment

Dave Sorensen

about 5 months ago

Renting a two-bedroom dwelling is now cheaper for 89 percent of Americans than buying a similar dwelling. Three years ago that figure was 16 percent. Part of the reason is that in 2023 44 percent of all single-family home purchases were by private equity firms. Democrats in Congress are proposing a bill that would ban hedge funds from owning single-family homes. Here's my question: Is there something on the local level that could be done to address this situation, akin to  what they're trying to accomplish in Congress? Thanks for fielding these questions.

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