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Pioneer Editorial: Cheers and Jeers

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

Find a way to lessen burden on city taxpayers

With more than half of the market value of Bemidji property exempt from taxes, providing essential city services and programs becomes a daunting challenge.

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At 52 percent of its property market value not contributing to the tax rolls, Bemidji faces the task of addressing needs in a variety of ways.

In fact, just three other Greater Minnesota cities – Rochester, Duluth and Moorhead – have a larger percentage of property market value not contributing to the municipal general fund.

Each of these cities – in their respective corners of the state – has something in common. The municipalities serve as a regional hub for health care, education, retail, commercial, jobs and culture.

Yet the eroding Local Government Aid provided by the state puts a tremendous burden on these cities, and in turn, the typical property owner.

Ten years ago, LGA accounted for 56 percent of Bemidji’s budget. On the other hand, property taxes contributed to 17 percent.

Those budget roles have since reversed as LGA provides 30 percent of the budget. Property taxes – paid by those who own 48 percent of Bemidji’s property market value – now account for 41 percent of the city’s general fund budget.

Those dollars fix roads, provide fire and police protection and cover general government expenses.

One of the stop-gap measures proposed by the City Council – raising utility franchise fees 1 percent to 4.5 percent of monthly gross revenues – is projected to generate $220,000 for the general fund.

Unless something changes in St. Paul, where lawmakers meet every year, the 10-year trend suggests the burden for the typical taxpayer will become worse as larger levy increases are needed to cover basic services which contribute to our quality of life.

Many tax exempt properties – hospitals, colleges and core nonprofit organizations – are not the issue.

Rather, legislators must find the resolve to fix the problem through a collaborative, non-partisan effort.

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United effort

The United Way of Bemidji Area’s annual public campaign for the community began last week in impressive fashion.

Behind the scenes, a collaborative effort by Pillar members and nine Pacesetter businesses combined to raise $191,524 – about 47 percent of the campaign’s goal – by the campaign’s kick-off event Wednesday at the Paul Bunyan Mall.

At the Chili Cook-off, more than 400 people, with proceeds generating $2,832.

The 2012 goal of $405,000 isn’t out of reach with strong early support.

Supporting more than 30 partner agencies, the United Way focuses on quality of life issues – education, income and health – to improve the Bemidji community.

There are a variety of ways to support the United Way and in turn assist those local agencies which provide vital resources to our neighbors.

To learn more, visit online at www.unitedwaybemidji.org.

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