St. Cloud voters back tax hike for parks; Duluth voters narrowly say 'No'

A sign reads "Observation Park"
Observation Park, shown here on Oct. 26, just west of downtown Duluth, hasn’t been substantially renovated in 70 years.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

Voters in St. Cloud overwhelmingly supported a property tax hike to infuse millions of dollars into city parks over the next three years, while Duluth residents narrowly rejected a ballot question that would have raised additional funding to support neighborhood green spaces.

Nearly 65 percent of voters in St. Cloud supported a referendum that will raise $20 million to refurbish and upgrade parks and trails across the city that have seen a surge in usage since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, said St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis.

The average residential homeowner in St. Cloud will pay an additional $58.00 per year in property taxes.

Meanwhile voters in Duluth narrowly rejected a similar proposal that also would have focused funding on neighborhood parks that city leaders argued need significant upgrades, but often don’t qualify for grants and other sources of funding.

The measure failed by just 202 votes.

A decade ago Duluth voters easily approved a park levy of $2.6 million. But that total was fixed. So as property values have increased, the percentage tax that Duluth homeowners have paid to support the park levy has dropped.

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Previously: City park funding on the ballot in Duluth, St. Cloud this year

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson proposed returning the levy to its original percentage rate. That would have increased the amount paid by the owner of a median-priced home by nearly $50 a year. In 2023, that would have raised the amount collected for parks to about $4.1 million.

In a statement, Larson said she was disappointed the parks levy question failed. But she said she was heartened that the vote was so close on a “legally wonky” question at a time when many people are hurting financially.

“Our amazing parks staff will continue to do important work with the resources we have, we will revisit strategies for future funding options and we will continue to be a city which prides itself on our green space and the way it holds a sense of place, and a sense of one another, together,” Larson said.

Meanwhile, in Waite Park, Minn., a small community outside St. Cloud, residents rejected a proposal to raise $7.5 million for regional trail improvements by just 34 votes.

The ballot questions in Minnesota were among more than 60 around the country, where cities, counties and states asked voters to help pay for parks and land conservation, according to the nonprofit Trust for Public Land. Of those, more than 80 percent passed.