In a recent COVID-19 address to the city, Mayor Larson was quoted as saying that Duluth will have to do “less with less”. The city is facing a budget shortfall that could add up to $38 Million without the typical tourist traffic and events that provide a good portion of the city’s income. The massive budget deficit has lead a few to take a closer look at the city’s budget to see where cuts could be made.
One line item that could possibly handle some trimming is the City Attorney’s Office. Duluth has 17 employees in the city attorney budget with wages adding up to $1.7 million and benefits coming in over $76,000 (2019 expenses). A source also shared that the city keeps several local law firms on retainer, however, those fees were not easily found in the city’s 471-page 2020 budget.
Is 17 employees in the city attorney office too many? Besides the city attorney, Duluth has 9 assistant attorneys, 3 administrative legal assistants, 2 paralegals, and 1 prosecution assistant. By comparison, across the bridge, Superior, WI has just the city attorney and one legal assistant with wages amounting to $185,000 and benefits just over $14K. Granted the population is one-third of Duluth, but 2×3=6.
To get a better picture of where the city attorney office budget falls, we compared it with like-sized cities in Minnesota. While the budget is similar to Bloomington’s, they only have 7 total attorneys on staff, compared to 10 in Duluth. Brooklyn Park and Plymouth – with just a few thousand people less in population, don’t even have a “city attorney” in their budget, instead, they contract legal services and save a pretty (millions of) pennies.
|City||City Attorney Office |
Salary + Benefits
|Brooklyn Park||$0 (Legal expenses $494,000)||0||75,572|
|Plymouth||$0 (Legal expenses $330,000)||0||77,213|
What we aren’t sure of is the number of cases these cities are a part of each year. That would be the true test of need when it comes to the number of attorneys the city should have on staff. Do the legal needs of Duluth justify 10 attorneys and support staff?
As a side note: We also looked at St. Paul’s city attorney budget. The city has nearly 300,000 residents and employs 74.80 full-time people in the city attorney’s office with an employee expense of just over $9 million.
While pouring through these city budgets, we also found it interesting that Duluth’s 2020 budget was longer than St. Paul’s, with Duluth coming in at a whopping 471 pages topping St. Paul’s, 456. Bloomington spent all their money in 310 pages, Brooklyn Park needed only 218 pages, and Plymouth came in with a modest 147-page budget.
Progess means simplifying, not complicating.Bruno Munari