Council to gather input from residents and businesses on how best to fund the Sanford Center

The Bemidji City Council will hold a public meeting late in July to gather input from citizens on how to fund the Sanford Center.

During last night’s work session, the council was briefed on the history of the referendums, including the obligatory bonds to construct the center and a recap of the half-percent sales tax that is put toward paying down those construction bonds.

There was no consensus to form a task force, as mayor Jorge Prince suggested, but a meeting to gather public input was generally agreed to, as long as it included both the business community as well as residents.

In sessions past, city officials have lobbied the legislature to authorize a hospitality or food and beverage tax but in 2013, a group of vocal opponents for the local special use tax apparently upended the effort.

Council member Josh Peterson emphasized that the community’s buy-in was necessary to ensure success for a special use tax.

A special use tax would not need to be placed on a referendum, as a sales tax would, and can be used more flexibly, such as for operational costs.

A sales tax can only be used for capital, physical structures and has a definite period of time in which it can be collected, unlike a special use tax with no sunset date.

Other cities with event centers, such as Mankato, have special use taxes to help support them, but still run a deficit, as council member Nancy Erickson pointed out.

City Finance Director Ron Eischens also quipped that if these event centers were profitable ventures, the private sector would invest in them, rather than public entities.

The annual Sanford Center operations deficit, which averages between $300,000 and $400,000 in normal years outside of COVID, is paid through, at least in part, from property tax dollars.

The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Prince are planning a Q&A session with the business community that will take place later next month.


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