BEMIDJI – The Bemidji City Council approved its 2013 budget and property tax levy during its last meeting of the year Monday night.
The city’s property tax levy increased by 7.8 percent, or $302,232, 5.4 percent of which was needed to capture newly-annexed property. The other 2.4 percent of the increase was for budgetary needs.
It also included a 1 percentage point increase in the gas and electric franchise fees, which is expected to generate an extra $220,000 in additional revenue.
The general fund, which pays for essential services like police, fire and public works, will increase by 3.8 percent to $9.9 million.
All city departments received 2 percent operating budget increases for non-personnel costs, and all city employees received a 3 percent cost of living increase. There were no cost of living increases in 2010 and 2011, with a 1 percent increase in 2012.
The police department is also adding an extra officer and a squad car.
The city is budgeted for five fewer full-time employees in 2013 than it had in 2003.
The city shows a shortfall in its overall budget by more than $2 million. But city finance director Ron Eischens previously explained that the city has enough in cash reserves to make up the difference. The overall city budget is about $31.5 million.
The city’s tax rate in 2013 is 48.24, a couple of points higher than 2012, when it was 10 points below the regional average, according to Eischens’ truth-in-taxation presentation.
Individual property taxes depend on a variety of factors, including a property’s market value and action by the state Legislature, the county and school district.
New trail sign
The council chose a design for a sign to replace the one currently on the Paul Bunyan State Trail Bridge.
The council was presented two sets of designs from local sign makers. The one chosen came from Tim Meyers of Meyers Signsource.
The sign uses the unique font that appears on the water tower, city letterheads and staff shirts. Some council members originally preferred a design with more legible writing for passing motorists.
The sign includes Paul and Babe in a half circle with “Welcome to Bemidji” written above them. It also recognizes the Paul Bunyan State Trail.
The decision came after city officials met with Minnesota Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources officials to find a compromise on replacing the current sign, which city leadership say is too hard to read. That meeting was also attended by Gov. Mark Dayton.
City manager John Chattin said he will now meet with state officials to get their feedback.
Monday’s meeting was the last for some members of the Bemidji City Council.
Mayor Dave Larson and councilors Greg Negard and Kevin Waldhausen said their goodbyes in their closing statements, thanking city staff and complimenting their fellow councilors.
Waldhausen, who represented Ward 1 for the past four years, chose not to run this year.
“I’ve enjoyed my time; I’ve learned so much,” Waldhausen said. “I’ve never considered this a job; I’ve considered this an honor and a privilege.”
Negard thanked Nancy Erickson, a former city councilor who won back the Ward 5 seat in November’s election. He also lauded city staff and fellow councilors, and said he looked forward to spending more time with his wife.
“We’re all sitting here representing constituents in our different wards, but we all come at problems from different angles,” Negard said.
Larson thanked mayor-elect Rita Albrecht for running a good campaign, and offered advice for the newly-elected councilors.
“You’re called to serve those who you represent and you’re responsible to their wishes,” Larson said. “Your role is one as a servant, as I see it.”