The City of Bemidji is looking at entering a memorandum of understanding with the economic development group Greater Bemidji.
During their work session last night, councillors and executive director of Greater Bemidji Dave Hengel discussed some expectations each group has of the other.
Greater Bemidji is expected to receive $30,000 of property tax levy dollars for their mission of economic development, such as securing businesses to establish themselves in town.
Hengel has previously come before the council in January of each year to discuss a work plan, but this would be the first memorandum of understanding between the two entities.
Some councillors expressed concern that there are many nonprofits that are deserving of dollars for their charity work.
“Fifteen percent of our community is disabled,” said freshman councillor Emilie Rivera of Ward 4, explaining the many challenges residents of Bemidji face, which include low income and obesity. “There are a lot of services in this community that would turn over backwards for $500, let alone $5,000.”
Hengel distinguished Greater Bemidji from these types of groups.
Nancy Erickson, Ward 5 councilperson, expressed concern about what the city’s role is in contributing funds to outside groups.
“Do we have the authority to be able to levy [the taxpayers] for money that we feel obligated to give to someone else?”
Another work session on the partnership between the council and Greater Bemidji is expected in January.
The council also discussed the need to work together to accomplish goals, such as working together to find a way to alleviate the Sanford Center’s tax burden on property tax payers, which has an anticipated cost of $750,000 on capital improvements to maintain it.
“I want to see more transparency,” said Ward 1 councillor Michael Meehlhause. “I understand, with private companies and [Greater Bemidji being] a private entity, it’s not as cut and dry as I wish it could be, but we need to board to understand the nitty gritty we have to deal with to help this community.”
“The City of Bemidji needs partners now more than ever,” said Ron Johnson, councilperson for Ward 3.
The council, prior to the lengthy Greater Bemidji discussion, also discussed land they owned and the reduction of price per square foot on each of their lots on the South Shore, Moberg Drive and Rako Street.
The council also discussed different possibilities on how they could use the revolving loan fund, which, according to Community Development Director Steve Jones, has only been used five times in the last five years.
Possibilities discussed included taking some of the $942,000 and using it to invest in infrastructure, such as the city’s impending water treatment and waste water treatment needs.