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Birchmont Drive reassessments passed

NORTHERN TOWNSHIP – The town board on Monday passed the latest reassessments for the utility project on Birchmont Drive.

The meeting was a continuation of a Sept. 11 reassessment hearing in which many residents voiced their frustrations. Dozens also formally objected to the reassessments, which totaled $1.4 million, through their attorney in previous legal proceedings, Zenas Baer.

Baer said after the meeting Monday that it would be his recommendation to the group of residents to appeal the decision. They have 30 days to do so, he said.

Baer previously argued that the assessments for the utility project, which was completed in 2008, exceed whatever benefits the properties received. He has also argued that the model used to determine those benefits has previously been rejected in court.

Jason J. Kuboushek, the attorney representing the town board, addressed some of those arguments Monday, stating that the econometric model used by a Duluth-based firm has not been rejected for assessment purposes.

He also addressed concerns that the original petition from residents asking for the project had been lost or altered. Kuboushek said the original petition was found at the Bemidji city clerk’s office, and it stated that benefited properties would be assessed for the project.

“The time to challenge (the petition) is long gone,” town board Supervisor Dan Bahr said during the meeting. “You did receive benefits. Somebody needs to pay for those benefits.”

Board Chairman Mike Kelly said although the board passed the assessment roll, there is still an opportunity to come together and solve the issue.

“(Passing the assessment roll) does open the door for the residents, if they feel that they’ve been treated unjustly, to seek remedial action through the court,” Kelly said during the meeting. “And that also opens the door for the entities to be able to meet and to come to some further resolution.”

The issue has twice gone to court, with the original assessments being vacated by a judge in 2009. The town board vacated the reassessments, leading to the case’s dismissal earlier this year.

Earlier Monday, the town board and Bemidji City Council voted not to have a previously planned closed-door meeting to discuss pending litigation on the Birchmont Drive issue. The decision came after a challenge from the Pioneer on the group’s ability to close that meeting based on state open meeting laws.

In an email to the Pioneer last week, Mark Anfinson, a lawyer for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, said it appeared the group couldn’t close the meeting based on a 2002 Minnesota Supreme Court decision.

“In its decision, the Court made clear that where a public body is considering a particular proposal, but has not yet taken final action on it, its meetings cannot be closed under any circumstances,” he said.

In this case, neither the town board nor the council had passed the reassessment roll. The Bemidji City Council will meet Oct. 15 to discuss the assessments for seven parcels that were recently annexed into the city.  

Baer told Kuboushek that he understood the town board and city council’s need to discuss potential settlement privately, Kuboushek said Monday.

“It has been the attorneys’ attempts throughout to try and get this resolved, and unfortunately the circumstances haven’t let that occur,” Kuboushek said.

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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