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Bemidji City Council: Little public opposition heard to franchise fee increase

BEMIDJI – The public hearing on a 1 percent increase in gas and electric franchise fees went by Monday without any, well, electricity.

No resident spoke for or against the increase during the city council’s regular meeting.

But both Councilor Jim Thompson and City Manager John Chattin shared stories of people who called to voice their opposition to the increase to 4.5 percent of monthly gross revenues.

Chattin said, however, after he explained that a 1 percent increase would raise the same amount of revenue that a 5.5 percent increase in the property tax levy would, the caller seemed more agreeable to it. The disparity is due in part to the large amount of tax-exempt property in the city.

City finance director Ron Eischens said the increase is expected to raise $220,000 in additional revenue.

City Clerk Kay Murphy told the council she got a call Monday from Minnesota Energy Resources, which indicated it didn’t have a problem with the increase.

The council was presented with two financing options during an Aug. 13 meeting, one of which included a .5 percent increase in franchise fees and a 10.6 percent increase in the property tax levy. The council opted to set the preliminary levy at 7.8 percent, with 5.4 percent of that needed to capture newly annexed properties.

The council will likely approve the franchise fee increase at its next scheduled meeting Oct. 1.

Other actions:

-- The council unanimously approved plans to purchase a new Peterbilt truck and plow equipment.

The city’s director of public works Craig Gray said the department had planned on purchasing a Kenworth truck and equipment for almost $178,000 as late as the middle of last week, when the resolution was written. But plans were changed in favor of the Peterbilt truck, which costs about $7,000 less.

The truck will be ready sometime in January, Gray said.

The department also plans on getting quotes from local contractors for a 1993 Ford single-axle dump truck, or trade it in for $2,500.

“This will give us a plow truck for every driver we have,” Gray said.  

-- The Minnesota Department of Transportation is re-examining claims that it should help in some way with moving the Carnegie Library, said Lew Crenshaw, chair of the committee that’s raising funds to restore the aging building.

Crenshaw said during his report to the council that because the widening of Paul Bunyan Drive was done with federal funds and affected a historic building, it’s the understanding of the committee that MnDOT is “obligated to remediate the problem.”

“And to us that means move the building for us,” he said. The council previously directed that the building should be moved back at least 10 feet from the street if it’s restored.

He said they should know the result of the examination in the next few weeks.

Crenshaw also reported that the committee’s application for a $150,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation didn’t go through because of the organization’s policy change to not support brick and mortar projects outside its home county, Itasca County.

“It’s … just going to make the road a little longer,” he said.

But he did say the Minnesota Design Team gave him some ideas during its weekend visit on other organizations to contact for support.

-- The city council also approved the 2013 Sanford Center budget and business plan.

The budget projects a need for a $371,691 city subsidy. Eischens said that amount isn’t very different from years past.

-- The council met in a closed session after the regular meeting to discuss reassessments on Birchmont Drive.

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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