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Bemidji City Council approves Sanford Center budget

The projected 2011 deficit for The Sanford Center rose slightly, from about $300,000 to about $338,000.

The council voted Monday to approve the budget, as presented by Bob LeBarron, the executive director of the events center.

The council also voted to advertise for bids for a new digester building for the Wastewater Treatment Facility. While the estimates on the building are higher than what was budgeted, the council said it would like to receive actual bids, noting that all bids could always be rejected.

The budget for The Sanford Center calls for a $338,718 projected deficit for 2011, which is up slightly from what was anticipated earlier this year.

"The vast majority of the difference .... Was in the under-estimated snow removal and utilities cost," LeBarron said.

Now that The Sanford Center has been in operation two months and has experienced two snowfall events, LeBarron said staff has a better expectation of cost.

The budget includes projections about events and revenue for 2011, including 217 events with 155,825 attendance; total operating revenue of $2.05 million, including payment for naming rights from Sanford Health; operating expenses of $2.39 million; and the expectation that catering would generate $321,000 and concessions $789,000.

The naming rights agreement with Sanford Health is bringing in an additional $100,000 over what was initially expected.

City Manager John Chattin said Sanford Health also is making a payment of $200,000 for 2010, which will reduce the deficit for this year.

Councilor Greg Negard referenced a non-city-sponsored effort to collect donations from community members, focusing on those from outside the city limits, that would be used to help cover deficits at the events center.

Steve Johnson, who just happened to be in the council audience, said that fundraising effort is still ongoing. People pledged $100 a year for five years.

Johnson said he did not know the fund balance exactly, but said it would not cover the entire deficit.

The money will be turned over the city once a deficit is established, he said.

Councilor Kevin Waldhausen asked LeBarron about the lights at the events center. He said he often drives by the facility before 5 a.m. and it is very highly lit up.

LeBarron said the facility has to have emergency lights on outside the building, but for those inside, especially those on the second floor, he said they will be turned off in the future. He said the staff is turning off more and more lights as they get better control of the lighting system.

The city has budgeted $2.93 million for a new digester building for the WWTP. But the city's consultant, Bolton & Menk, has designed the project now at $3.581 million, due to some changes and the expectation of higher bids.

Craig Gray, the city engineer/public works director, said the digester building would serve a population of up to 23,400, which would be sometime around 2045-2050.

He noted that it also would be capable of handing sewage from around Lake Bemidji, which is a goal of the City Council.

The council voted unanimously to approve the specifications of the project and to bid it out.

The bids could always be rejected if they are too high, Chattin noted.

Negard questioned Gray about the status of the current digester and whether it would be replaced.

Is its usefulness gone, he asked.

Gray said the new digester building, if constructed, would be an addition and would not replace the current digester.

The existing digester would remain in place and continue to function, he explained.

Rather, the new digester would have the capacity of handling more volatile solids, of which Bemidji has a very high concentration for its population (Gray speculates that could be because of the number of restaurants in the city limits).

Mayor Richard Lehmann asked if the new building would eradicate the unpleasant smell that occasionally comes from the WWTP.

Gray said it would.

One of the reasons the cost of the project escalated, he explained, was because consultants found that some plant processes should be upgraded to lower long-term costs.

One of those improvements would take care of the "vast majority" of the unpleasant smell, Gray said. The smell is coming from a gas-waste burner which sometimes does not fire when it should.

All of that is scheduled to be updated, Gray noted.