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Northern Township: Birchmont legal saga continues

NORTHERN TOWNSHIP – A years-long legal battle between the township and Birchmont Drive residents over assessments for sewer and water work will enter another chapter Tuesday.

That’s when residents plan to formally object to the township’s latest assessments at a joint meeting between the City of Bemidji and Northern Township.

The proposed assessment roll totals about $1.4 million. The assessments were mailed out in mid-August for sewer and water improvements on Birchmont Drive that were completed in 2008. Zenas Baer, a Hawley, Minn.-based lawyer who has represented the Birchmont Drive area residents in past proceedings, said about 50 people plan on objecting.

By filing a written objection at the Tuesday meeting, it would allow the residents to appeal should it reach the courts.

“We have always been willing to sit down and talk reasonably about the assessments” and avoid going to court, Baer said.

Mary Israelson, a clerk at Northern Township, said the city and township could approve an assessment roll that night, but may choose to hold it. Seven of the reassessed properties were annexed into Bemidji.

 Rod Pickett, a Birchmont Drive resident who has been involved in the legal proceedings, said it’s unclear how the township came up with the latest assessments figures.

“There’s no explanation for these numbers,” he said.

Israelson said the township’s method for determining the assessments will be explained Tuesday.

The objection to the town board Tuesday is another step in a seven-year saga that has pitted the town board against Birchmont Drive residents.

The town board originally tried to assess each property owner a uniform amount for the improvements.

A judge ruled in September 2009 that the claim that the properties increased in value by at least as much as the amount of the assessment was “without foundation” and that the properties should be reassessed, according to court documents.

The group of residents again appealed in 2011, arguing against the method for coming up with the reassessments and that they exceeded the project’s benefits. The case was dismissed this past May because the township vacated its 2011 assessments, according to court documents.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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