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Bemidji City Council to discuss donation policy for nonprofits

An upcoming council meeting dedicated to a discussion about the city's moratorium on contributions to nonprofit organizations seems to be coming at a good time.

The Boys & Girls Club last month asked the city for a $10,000 donation toward operations expenses.

And on Monday, the Bemidji Senior Center asked for a contribution, but didn't specify an amount.

"Even a thousand bucks a year would help us," said Ann Daley, representing the Senior Center.

During her presentation to the City Council on Monday, Daley said the Senior Center is projecting $72,000 in revenue for 2008 and $85,000 in expenses.

The center has traditionally been able to operate independently from the city, but big-ticket expenses have cropped up this year, she explained. The Senior Center had to buy a new furnace earlier this year and now has learned it will need to invest $5,000 to $10,000 into the kitchen to meet code.

Daley noted that the city of Thief River Falls, Minn., has contributed $16,000 a year for the last 21 years to its senior center to help with operating expenses.

Mayor Richard Lehmann, a member of the Senior Center, praised the center and said he remembered the days when the city considered discretionary funding requests. While other nonprofits came in asking for $5,000 and $10,000 in funding, the Senior Center said it could "get by" with $1,500.

He then told Daley that the council that the city was scheduled to discuss the moratorium during Monday's work session, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The City Council in March 2004 adopted a moratorium on all contributions to nonprofit groups. In August, the council voted to keep the moratorium in place.

The issue came up last year when Bemidji Youth Baseball requested that the city waive $714 in building fees for a $60,000 building project.

While councilors did vote to uphold the moratorium, they questioned what constitutes a donation.

The city has waved building fees for Habitat to Humanity --and in January voted to contribute $1,500 to the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, a nonprofit that strives to acquire, protect and enhance public land.

Councilor Ron Johnson also pointed out last August that donation requests do not just come from groups asking the city to waive building permit fees or contribute money toward causes. The Jaycees and Bemidji Rotary Club utilize the Lake Bemidji waterfront for summertime events, and the city cleans up after those events and provides police officers for additional patrol, he said.

"It is a bigger thing than just saying no to handouts," Johnson said during the Aug. 13 meeting.