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Fire Department, NTC consider partnership for new substation

The city of Bemidji is pursuing a possible deal with Northwest Technical College that would result in a new substation for the Bemidji Fire Department.

During the Bemidji City Council work session on Monday, Mayor Richard Lehmann said NTC likely would donate the land for the potential facility.

"I can find no downside to it," said Lehmann, who works in admissions for NTC.

City Manager John Chattin said the city of Bemidji was approached by NTC with the idea. He is planning to meet Aug. 7 with college officials and Fire Chief Dick Sathers.

"As the mayor said, it is hard to find a downside," Chattin said.

Discussion between the college and city is just beginning - no specifics are yet known. But, a building may soon be needed to house "one or two trucks" and some dormitory space, Sather said on Tuesday.

If the council and college determine that a training facility is warranted, students at NTC who are working toward a certificate in fire service would likely be able to use the facility for their schooling as well, Sather said.

"The sky's the limit on this one," Lehmann said during Monday's meeting. "I think it's a really good idea."

Bemidji currently uses the former Minnesota Department of Transportation building, where the American Red Cross also is located, to store city vehicles and some Fire Department vehicles, Sather said.

The city vehicles will move to the new Public Works Facility when it opens next year.

The fire trucks would have to be moved if the building is ever sold, Sather said.

Construction of a new substation would offer space to the Fire Department to store a few trucks, he said.

The City Council on Monday agreed to consider the idea, directing Chattin to meet with NTC representatives to discuss a potential arrangement.

"Go forth and make it happen," Lehmann said to Chattin.

Grant funding

In order for the Bemidji Regional Airport to receive more than $8.1 million through a federal grant for its Airport Improvement Plan, the city must contribute its share.

The federal grant requires a local contribution of about 5 percent plus $160,000 for a new taxiway and utility services to support a new commercial hangar.

In all, the city of Bemidji's share totaled $300,000, as did Beltrami County's share.

During Monday's City Council work session, officials discussed where that money should come from.

The "u-dag" fund was considered as a possible source. The u-dag funds are typically spent on economic development and have, traditionally, been repaid.

While Councilor Nancy Erickson said the funds have always been revolving dollars that are paid and then returned, others disputed that and said the funds should be spent at the council's discretion.

The City Council has used the funds for other expenses, including paying for the feasibility study done by Wayzata-based Conventions, Sports and Leisure International. Last week, the council also authorized using u-dag funds to cover the contract with Headwaters Regional Development Commission. The u-dag funds would only be used if the state determined that the HRDC's work did not qualify for the $3 million the state gave to the city for events center planning.

Chattin said on Monday that the state will cover part of the $48,500 HRDC costs, but not their entirety, as some of the contract did not qualify, such as cheerleading the project.

After considering the use of u-dag funds for the airport grant money, the City Council voted to use $200,000 from money set aside for the new Public Works Facility. The $200,000 would not have been used this year anyway, and Chattin said those dollars would eventually go into the surplus fund. The remaining $100,000 will be taken from the general fund.

The grant-matching funds are for grants that already have been secured. Two other potential grants, totaling $1 million, are still being considered in different committees at the federal level. If these are approved at their current level, the city and Beltrami County would likely be asked to each contribute $50,000 in local dollars.