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Bemidji City Council considers JEDC funding

The Bemidji City Council unanimously voted to support the Joint Economic Development Commission - but not until after a previous motion to terminate the agreement failed.

Historically, the council has approved three-year agreements with the JEDC and contributed $20,000 a year.

Due to a mistake, the JEDC this year was acting for retroactive approval and funding for 2007, plus $25,000 a year for 2008 and 2009. Larry Young, JEDC executive director, apologized in a report for his commission's failing to come before the City Council for funding last year.

The council voted to authorize funding for 2007 and 2008 - but decided to hold off on approval for 2009. Instead, the JEDC's request will again come before the council before 2009.

The JEDC, which was formed in 1985, strives to improve the business climate in Bemidji and Beltrami County by offering loans for businesses. Throughout the last 21 years, the JEDC has provided more than $2.5 million in financing for area businesses, according to the JEDC's Web site.

The JEDC has funding sources for loans: the JEDC Seed Capital and City Development Fund, which is a revolving loan fund that requires recipients to be located in the city and City Council approval.

Councilor Roger Hellquist made a motion to deny the request and instead use those funds to hire a community development director for the city of Bemidji.

"It's a perfect time to take this and move forward with a community development person," he said.

The council has discussed the potential of hiring such a person since assistant city planner Rita Albrecht resigned earlier this year to take a job with the Headwaters regional Development Commission, Hellquist said.

City Attorney Al Felix told the council that the agreement can be terminated - but the city also can access some of the funds in the City Development Fund.

"You have some flexibility under the current agreement," he said.

Councilor Onen Markeson said Hellquist raised some good points, but he was in favor of reviewing the agreement annually and approving it for now through 2008.

Mayor Richard Lehmann, who serves on the JEDC board of directors, said a community development director would not fulfill the same roles as the JEDC, which serves as more of an economic development director.

"Not always is it a loan," he said.

Additionally, Lehmann said $25,000 would not likely fund a position for community development and also cover costs that the JEDC provides for the city, including working with companies to fill vacant building or working to improve employment in the city.

"I don't know if we're going to get something for that amount of money," he said. "There's a lot more to it."

Hellquist was the only councilor to vote in favor denying the request. An agreement to renew the agreement, funding $20,000 for 2007 and $25,000 for 2008, passed unanimously.