Roads in Duluth are really bad, so the mayor wants to raise the sales tax

Only 17 percent of the city's roads are in good condition.
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Roads in Duluth are really, really bad, so the city's mayor wants to raise the local sales tax to pay for fixes.

Mayor Emily Larson proposed her plan Tuesday, which calls for a half-percent increase on the local sales tax for up to 25 years. 

This would bring the sales tax on most retail purchases in Duluth to 8.875 percent (that figure includes state and county sales taxes), the Duluth News Tribune says, making it the highest combined sales tax of any Minnesota city. 

Larson has asked the Duluth City Council to put the proposal to a citywide referendum in November – meaning residents would vote on whether to implement the tax increase.

"It's time for us as a community to prioritize streets," Larson said, according to MPR News. "This referendum gives voters a chance to let us know if they want a dedicated consistent long-term streets plan. And I think they do."

$7 million a year to fix roads

Right now street repairs are paid for by residents through property tax levies. That only gives the city about $1.5 million a year to fix the city's streets, which is enough to reconstruct fewer than 2 miles of the city's 450 miles of roads a year. 

But raising the sales tax would "almost triple" the city's current funding for streets, Larson says, adding roughly $7 million annually to the Street Improvement Program.

Plus, Larson says investing in maintaining the city's streets now will save money in the future. 

“According to the League of Minnesota Cities, for every $1 spent on maintenance a road authority saves $7 in repair costs,” Larson said, according to FOX 21

Duluth's streets are 'unacceptable'

The City of Duluth has 450 miles of roads and about 400 miles of sidewalk that it maintains – and the majority of them are in rough shape. 

Duluth's Pavement Condition Index (an industry measurement that rates road conditions on a scale of 1-100 – 100 being the best) is an average rating of 36, with 55 percent of the total miles of roads the city maintains in "poor" condition.

Larson calls this rating – and the condition of the city's streets – "unacceptable," with her proposal noting that industry standards of a healthy road system have an average rating of 70.

So what's next?

The city council will decide whether to add the referendum vote to the ballot at a meeting on Aug. 14, Larson's proposal says, with FOX 21 noting it already has the support of several city leaders. 

If approved by the city council, the city will hold three public meetings (see when and where here), ahead of the Nov. 7 referendum vote. 

If the public votes in favor of Larson's proposal, the city will have to get it approved by the state Legislature once lawmakers convene in 2018. 

Read more about the state of the city's streets and Larson's proposal here

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