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City Councilors reflect on 2019 agenda items that help shape Duluth

DULUTH, MN-- As 2019 comes to a close, we're taking a look back at what a change-filled year it was for the city of Duluth.

From starting the year rolling out Tobacco 21. To adjusting to a changing golf landscape in the city, councilors have been busy reacting and implementing.

Most meetings were packed with a full agenda and plenty of community discussion. And the biggest universal concern?

"Streets is by far the number one thing I heard about when I was out knocking on doors, and for good reason," says At-Large Councilor Arik Forsman.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson's half-percent sales tax increase for up to 25 years, approved by the council, will help fix Duluth's 450-miles of run-down roads.

"The streets allocation that's coming forward, that's a huge impact on our streets. People are always talking and asking about streets so that was a big win," says 4th District Councilor, Renee Van Nett.

The proposed expansion of Duluth's downtown medical district often drew large crowds to the chambers. Van Nett says communication between the hospital, residents, and councilors weren't always clear, but it's something she overall supports.

"When I first landed at council my first year I was stage four cancer. I need Essentia Health," says Van Nett. "So there's a big connection there for me to make sure that program, that whole entity is there and better in services."

Forsman says the expansion is a tremendous opportunity for the city. He says, "build off of that, really create the catalyst that it could be for development for the Hillside when it comes to housing, and economic development, childcare, and other potential benefits the city will get from this investment."

Arguably the latest and greatest controversy at City Hall was the proposal of a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags for shoppers at Duluth checkouts.

Both Forsman and Van Nett voted against it.

"I heard a lot of people who just, generally speaking, had concerns about it or the message it was sending," says Forsman.

Van Nett says she was put off by what she called the lack of clarity in the ordinance's exemption for people with low incomes.

She says a plastic bag might be the only way someone can get their purchased items home and people shouldn't be shamed for it.

"It's about real people's lives and how they get by and how they don't get by. And I'm doing injustice if I can't figure out how to help people get by," says the 4th District Councilor.

Forsman also touted an act that wasn't highly publicized.

He says he found it important to address the competitive pay issues with police officers after the Duluth Police Department was seeing a drastic decrease in applications.

Forsman says with the help of local law enforcement, police were able to receive an extra pay bump. He says now, the DPD is poised to be fully staffed for the first time in 20 years.

Both Councilor Forsman and Van Nett say they are looking forward to working with the new council elects come the new year.

Those include Derek Medved, Janet Kennedy, and Roz Randorf.

In 2020, the City's Earned Sick and Safe Time Ordinance will take effect on January 1st.

The Plastic Bag fee will start on April 1st.

The policy surrounding the use of police protective gear for Duluth police is expected to be rolled out at an undetermined date.

Jessie Slater

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