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Council continues moratorium on donations

A moratorium is in place. The Bemidji City Council just had to decide if it wants to continue to support it.

Councilors on Monday wrestled with what constitutes a donation.

Bemidji Youth Baseball previously had requested that the city waive $714 in building permit fees for a $60,000 building project to improve the baseball field on the Bemidji State University campus near Bemidji Avenue. The City Council voted on Aug. 6 to table the issue until Monday's work session to discuss a possible policy on such requests from nonprofit groups.

The council in March 2004 adopted a moratorium on "any future donation requests" excluding those already in place.

The question facing the council was this: Should it continue to support the moratorium?

Councilors voted 5-1 to keep the moratorium in place until a policy could be established that would utilize findings of fact to prove a hardship. City Attorney Alan Felix said he would look into other cities' policies on donations.

City Manager John Chattin said city staff could respond to such requests if a policy was in place.

Councilor Nancy Erickson cast the dissenting vote. She said the council already has a policy in place, the moratorium.

"You have to ask yourself where you draw the line," she said.

Councilor Ron Johnson pointed out that it is not just groups that are asking to waive building fee permits or contribute money to causes. The Jaycees and now Bemidji Rotary Club utilize the waterfront on Lake Bemidji for summertime events, for example. The city cleans up after the Bemidji Jaycees Water Carnival, he said, and police officers patrol the area during the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival.

"It is a bigger thing than just saying no to handouts," Johnson said.