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Businesses protest loss of city position

The decision to eliminate the city's community development director will result in a "short-term gain with long-term pain," said Mike Beard.

Beard, chairman of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, was one of five individuals who addressed the Bemidji City Council Monday evening, protesting the council's 4-3 decision to cut its community development director position.

"We feel the recent decision to not fund this position was a serious error," said Ken Cobb, representing the Downtown Development Authority. Cobb read a letter, signed by DDA President Mitch Rautio, in which the DDA urged the council to reconsider its decision.

The Bemidji City Council voted 4-3 Aug. 10 to eliminate, by the end of 2009, the community development director, a position that Rita Albrecht has held since its creation last year.

"We feel Rita Albrecht should be reinstated," said Lori Forshee-Donnay, executive director of the Bemidji Community Art Center.

No one on the council responded to the input from the community during the council meeting, which about 25 people attended.

Following the meeting, City Councilor Jerry Downs said budget actions are the hardest decisions facing the council each year.

"No one likes making job cuts," he said.

He noted that without eliminations, the city would have faced a 22 percent tax levy increase for 2010.

Those advocating for Albrecht's continued employment said she has been leading projects such as the downtown study conducted by RDG Planning & Design, the redevelopment of the south shore, the construction and operation of the Bemidji Regional Event Center, the Carnegie reuse study and the Small Cities Development Grant.

"(Albrecht) has been essential to the development of numerous downtown projects," Cobb said.

Additionally, the city is about to embark on its orderly annexation plans, Beard said.

"We feel that without this key position, the city will quickly lose the inroads it has made in regards to moving the city forward," he said.

The City Council is next scheduled to discuss the potential impact of annexation on the city's budget during a work session on Monday.

Downs, following Monday's meeting, said the budget picture will become even more clear following those discussions.