Council’s work session covers finances, JPB enforcement and masks

The Bemidji City Council’s three-hour work session covered a variety of topics, most notably the city’s financial situation.

City Finance Director Ron Eischens said in order to have a zero tax rate increase next year, the city would need reallocate $266,000 to the general fund.

In his recommendations to address the shortfall, Eichsens recommended:

  • Reallocating $40,000 from the street improvement fund. This would be repaid by increasing the assessment charge per lineal foot from $38 to $45. The assessment charge per lineal foot has been $38 since at least 2009. Over a short amount of time, this would make up the $40,000 with no impact to the street program.
  • Reducing the Sanford Center Capital Improvement contribution by $200,000. Eischens said that the $230,000 a year currently contributed is not enough to maintain the building, and that the city may need to focus on a special use tax in the future to cover the capital improvements.
  • Reduced interest rates after the city refinanced the bonds on the public works building saved the city $26,000 a year.

City council member for Ward 5, Nancy Erickson, did not support reducing the Sanford Center contributions for capital improvements, citing the city’s commitment to keep the facility in good working order.

Mayor of Bemidji Rita Albrecht echoed Erickson’s concern about reducing the contributions for the Sanford Center, expressing she did not want to force a future city council to find a way to make necessary improvements to the event center’s building.

The 50 percent Albrecht is referring to relates to the state auditor’s recommendation that a city of Bemidji’s size keeps 50 percent of its operating expenses in the general fund at all time, in the event of a severe economic downturn.

No action was taken on this item.

The council also discussed the hiring of a Joint Planning Board enforcement officer.

The council budgeted hiring one for this year, but no hire has yet been made.

Northern Township, a partner to the City of Bemidji on the Joint Planning Board, will provide some funding for the position.

A discussion ensued on how enforcement would be carried out in Northern Township.

The city’s legal team expressed that while administrative fines can be handled within the city, in Northern Township, those sorts of fines would have to be handled in court.

How Northern Township and the JPB would prosecute violators of JPB zoning ordinances and rules has yet to be determined, as is how the attorney would be compensated.

The city’s legal department requested more time to research further.

A motion to freeze the hiring process failed 1-4, and a motion to begin the hiring process of a JPB enforcement officer was withdrawn.

The council may possibly vote this Monday during their regular meeting on a city-wide mask ordinance.

Ward 4 representative Emilie Rivera posed that the state’s courts, the local law enforcement center and the city’s liquor stores all require masks while inside.

City Attorney Al Felix said a face mask order of this kind could be added as an amendment to the mayor’s emergency proclamation made during the early days of the pandemic.

The council will wait to see if Gov. Tim Walz will make such a proclamation mandating the use of mask in indoor spaces across the state this week.

If he does not, it will be added to Monday’s agenda.

Gov. Walz extended the peacetime state of emergency order by another 30 days yesterday. Forty-nine out of 50 states are still in a COVID-19 state of emergency.

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