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Annexation hits standstill

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News Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

NORTHERN TOWNSHIP - Bemidji Township continued to refuse to budge in the battle over annexation Tuesday night.

The city of Bemidji, Northern Township and Bemidji Township met at Northern Town Hall to review an amendment to the orderly annexation agreement to give Northern Township accelerated annexation and to move the annexation lines on two parcels of land.

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"I'll put it in simple terms: Bemidji Township says no," John Steffenhagen, attorney with Hellmuth & Johnson, said.

Accelerated annexation for Phase II was proposed due to the ongoing reassessment process of select parcels involved in the Birchmont Drive project. That project was started in 2005 by petition from residents seeking sewer and water extensions.

Portions of the Birchmont Drive project were within the planned annexation area, so the city of Bemidji was in charge of awarding bids, but Northern Township was responsible for approving the project and assessments.

However, 54 property owners appealed their assessments to Beltrami County District Court on Dec. 22, 2008, and on Sept. 1, 2009, a judge ruled the assessments invalid and ordered the parcels to be reassessed.

Since then, the township has been working to reassess those properties. But this spring the township learned the reassessment process had used invalid data, and a third reassessment was initiated.

Northern Township wants to speed up annexation so the reassessment process can be turned over to the city.

Phase I of annexation was completed May 9 when the Office of Administrative Hearings released a written order approving the city's first phase of annexation. Additionally, Algoma Park became a city park June 12 when Northern Township approved the signing of a deed transferring ownership of the park as part of the annexation.

On Tuesday night, however, the city of Bemidji and Northern Township learned that Bemidji Township believed Phase I of annexation to be unenforceable.

"Bemidji Township will not sign off on any amendment," Steffenhagen said. "We believe the annexation is unenforceable and invalid."

Bemidji Township refused to sign off on both the amendment allowing Northern Township to speed up annexation and the amendment giving two pieces of land back to Bemidji Township. Because the current annexation lines go through a church and a private yard, the city proposed to move the line so the two parcels stay in Bemidji Township.

"It is very unfortunate that we are at this point," Northern Township Chairman Mike Kelly said. "It is not what the orderly annexation was supposed to be about. Things have changed, I know that. I hope we can find some common ground on this."

Kelly said he was upset that Bemidji Township had initially stood with Northern Township and now the two couldn't be further apart.

"We're here tonight and things have changed dramatically," Kelly said. "I don't know where we go from here. I'm afraid that this is going to litigation that is going to cost the residents of all the affected areas time and money, and ultimately someone else is going to make a decision for us."

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