VenuWorks withdraws incentive-based contract, council sets preliminary levy at 8.5 percent net increase

Hours before the Bemidji City Council set the preliminary levy increase at 8.5 percent, VenuWorks withdrew its offer of an incentive-based contract.

VenuWorks CEO Bill Peters said that VenuWorks obliged their end of the contract and that the new terms of the contract were unlike any the company had ever undertaken.

Peters said VenuWorks would do everything they could to ensure a smooth transition at the end of the contract on March 6 and he urged the council to take good care of the Sanford Center employees.

The council was left with two options, to either operate the Sanford Center in-house with a new city department or go out for proposals from professional management companies.

City Finance Director Ron Eischens also discussed the financial reality of bringing the Sanford Center employees into a city department.

Council member-at-large Dan Jourdain, one of two remaining council members that voted against terminating the VenuWorks contract, expressed some concern that the road ahead has little background information, as the council chose not to pursue a review of the Sanford Center’s operations.

The council discussed and ultimately adopted a Sanford Center Transition Steering Committee, with Mayor Jorge Prince and council members Ron Johnson and Audrey Thayer to serve, with Jourdain as an alternate.

With the preliminary levy set at 8.5 percent net increase, the additional $339,000 that the city would collect would essentially all be put towards Sanford Center unknowns.

Eischens noted that he initially bookmarked $180,000 to be put toward capital improvement needs at the Sanford Center, but that amount will likely remain undesignated Sanford Center funds.

The other $159,000 may be placed in a contingency account initially, with possible uses including one-time costs for the future of the Sanford Center’s operation.

In other business at the Bemidji City Council meeting:

  • Two new police officers were sworn into the Bemidji Police Department. Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin noted during the meeting that the department is now fully staffed, despite the competitive labor market.
  • The council declared a vacancy in Ward 5 after Nancy Erickson’s resignation two weeks ago. City Clerk Michelle Miller will organize the special election, with the initial election to take place Feb. 8, 2022. Miller stated that if there are more than two candidates and no one wins 50 percent of the vote, the election will serve as a primary with a run-off during the state primary in August. Miller said next year is also a redistricting year, so it is possible that the Ward 5 district boundaries could change between the initial special election and the runoff.
  • The council directed staff to create an amended ordinance that would allow more options for commercial garbage pickup. A franchise currently exists for both residential and commercial refuse pickup within the City of Bemidji. Garbage pickup for residential customers would be unchanged with this amended ordinance.

Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University. You can follow along with Larissa's live tweets of meetings and events on Twitter!

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