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Annexation, fire services topic of joint meeting

A joint meeting Wednesday between city and township officials will tackle four issues, including annexation.

Officials from Bemidji and the townships of Bemidji and Northern also expect to discuss fire services, sewer and water utility extensions, and an update on the Comprehensive Plan process when they meet at 6 p.m. in Northern Town Hall, 445 Town Hall Road NW.

In 2004, the three governments signed on to an orderly annexation agreement dictating a three-phased annexation plan with identified properties to be annexed in 2010, 2015 and 2020.

The city and townships now are set to begin re-examining those annexation boundaries to see if they make sense or if they should be adjusted.

The city had been set for the first phase of annexation as recently as September. But concerns since have been vocalized by numerous residents and several township officials.

On Jan. 3, the Bemidji City Council voted 5-1 to proceed with the Northern Township portion of planned annexation, opting to not pursue the annexation of Bemidji Township parcels at that time, allowing time for Bemidji Township and the city to re-examine the Bemidji Township annexation lines.

That decision was canceled on Jan. 17, after an ardent speech from Northern Township Chairman Mike Kelly to the City Council. Kelly, on behalf of the township, asked that Northern Township be treated the same as Bemidji Township. The City Council ultimately agreed, voting 7-0 to withdraw the previously approved annexation resolution. The intent was that the city and townships all would meet to re-examine the annexation boundaries.

Fire services

In the fall, a local committee revealed the results of a four-month study into the operation of the Bemidji Fire Department.

The recommendation was to create a Bemidji Fire District, which would operate similarly to the Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board. The fire district is not proposed to have taxing authority.

Currently, the Rural Fire Association contracts with the city of Bemidji to provide fire protection to an additional 17 municipal areas, mostly townships. Funding for the Fire Department is done via a city-rural split. City of Bemidji dollars fund 56 percent of the costs and the Rural Fire Association 44 percent.

Despite its financial contributions, the Rural Fire Department has no say in the Fire Department's operation.

The seven-member Bemidji Area Fire Services Research Committee, composed of representatives from the city, townships and fire department, has recommended a fire district that would be governed by a board composed of representatives from all municipalities.

The fire district would be funded by the governing board with contributions from each municipality based on a formula that considers area, building values, population and service demand.