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Bemidji, townships to meet: Wednesday meeting to discuss mediation will be closed

BEMIDJI -- It appears representatives from the city of Bemidji and the two townships involved in an annexation agreement will meet Wednesday night.

But what specifically will be discussed remains unclear, and likely will remain that way for those standing outside of the closed-door meeting.

"There's no agenda that I've seen," Mayor Rita Albrecht said during a Monday night work session.

The Bemidji City Council approved sending Albrecht, as well as councilors Nancy Erickson and Ron Johnson to that meeting. Because a quorum of councilors won't be in attendance, the meeting will be closed, according to city staff.

"It's not a public meeting," city clerk Kay Murphy said.

But lacking a quorum would also mean no formal decisions could be made. It's not clear how many, or which township board members will be in attendance. Northern Township representatives, and Bemidji Township's attorney John Steffenhagen, were not available Monday night for comment.

The meeting will take place at Bemidji City Hall after the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board meeting that starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Northern Township board members previously expressed interest in meeting with the city and Bemidji Township, both of which were locked in a legal dispute over the annexation agreement. That dispute resulted in a mediation agreement being signed in May by the governments that would release Bemidji Township from the annexation and joint powers agreements they and Northern Township adopted in 2004.

While Northern Township doesn't have any say in the mediation agreement, all three governments have to approve any amendments to the annexation and joint powers agreements.

Legislative wrap-up

Now that the state Legislature has tackled Local Government Aid issues, the lobbying group representing cities such as Bemidji wants to focus on economic development and transportation issues.

Bradley Peterson, senior attorney for the firm Flaherty & Hood P.A., which represents the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, met with the Bemidji City Council during its Monday work session.

He recapped the changes made this session to LGA, a major funding source for many cities. The Legislature reformed the way the state calculates LGA payments to individual cities, as well as increasing funding by $80 million.

Those changes will mean $440,000 more for Bemidji next year than it was supposed to receive under the old law, according to a handout provided by Peterson.

Cities have been fighting LGA cuts in recent years, which caused "much apprehension at budget time," Erickson said.

"If you are telling us that we can be assured that it's pretty stable, that helps cities very much in their planning," Erickson said to Peterson.

"I think what I can tell you is, because I don't want to overstate, is assuming the current funding level, there will be a lot less volatility in the (LGA) formula," Peterson responded.

Looking to the future, Peterson said future sessions will focus on economic development, as will the upcoming CGMC conference at the Sanford Center later this month. And on transportation, there's one issue Councilor Jim Thompson wants to see addressed: Access to highways.

The Bemidji City Council passed a resolution in March in favor of expanding State Highway 371 into four lanes near Bemidji. That highway runs north from Little Falls to Brainerd and to Cass Lake.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers local business and North Dakota politics. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Bemidji Pioneer.  

(701) 780-1244
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