Help wanted: City compliance officer to monitor Duluth businesses

Duluth City Hall continues to proceed full-speed ahead with hiring a full-time “compliance officer” to enforce a controversial paid-time off mandate scheduled to take effect next year. Many  employers predict will be a nightmare for both the city and businesses. But Duluth Mayor Emily Larson told the Duluth News Tribune it’s a no-brainer.

“It was a pretty simple decision, because this is a significant undertaking. It was an issue that really required a lot of discussion, a lot of debate, a lot of discernment, and it’s time to implement it and get it right,” she said.

The government gig pays up to $80,000 a year, plus benefits. But that cost only scratches the surface, according to business owners.

Rob Stenberg, president of Duluth BizPAC, a recently formed business-oriented political action committee, predicts the cost of the new compliance officer position is just the beginning of the bill the city will foot for adopting an ordinance that will require local employers with five or more employees to provide them with paid time off that can be used to deal with an illness or a family emergency.

“I don’t even think the City Council or the mayor fully understand what the costs are for this — not only from a monetary standpoint for the salary and benefits of this one position, which I don’t think is going to be enough to cover what needs to be done in order to educate all the businesses in town,” Stenberg said.

City officials continue to brush off concerns from the business community.

At Large Duluth City Councilor Zack Filipovich believes the city is well positioned to enact the new policy in 2020 and said: “I think the long lead time, the very public discussion and the open process that we had with the task force really helped educate folks. At some points that process was contentious, but that’s to be expected with an issue like this. I think we ended up in a good place.”

Not if you listen to David Ross, President and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s a double whammy on business and consumers in the end.

“To add insult to injury, the same businesses which will incur additional payroll expenses associated with the ordinance will also pay more city taxes for the enforcement of the ordinance,” he said. “It’s doubling up on the pain and suffering.”

But no worries. City Hall says they’ve learned how to implement the new requirement from the best out there–Minneapolis and St. Paul.