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Bemidji City Council opts to not take action on Food Shelf request

BEMIDJI – The City Council on Monday opted to not take action on a request from the Bemidji Community Food Shelf to discount or waive up to $1,500 in fees as it transitions to a new building.

The food shelf, in the process of moving into the former ODC building in Bemidji’s industrial park, had asked the council for “help in reducing or eliminating” up to $1,500 in fees charged by the city in relation to a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system; a walk-in cooler and freezer; and lighting.

“As we worked on the project to get bids … there are significant fees associated with these upgrades to the property,” said Jack Judkins, food self coordinator.

The Bemidji City Council did not take action on the request. Though councilors do waive building fees associated with Habitat for Humanity projects – Habitat’s mission matches a council goal of providing low-income housing opportunities within the city limits – the City Council has for several years had in place a moratorium on donations to nonprofit groups.

In June 2011, the council voted to set aside 5 percent of liquor store profits accrued between then and Jan. 1, 2013, to pre-fund a pot of money that will be made available for nonprofit groups through an application process.

“This matter’s up to the council,” said John Chattin, city manager, of the food shelf request, noting that similar requests have been rejected by the council because of the moratorium.

Councilor Roger Hellquist said, legally, the city can only fund projects that serve a city function.

“As great of work as the food shelf does, it’s not a city function,” he said.

Chattin suggested that the council hold a work session prior to Jan. 1 to discuss the applicable state statutes and guidelines for considering nonprofits’ applications for those liquor store profits.

“That’s something the City Council must work out prior to the first of the year,” he said.

Judkins, estimating that about half of food shelf clients are city residents, said a reduction in city fees would benefit the client base.

“Every dollar that is spent on the project is $1 less that can be spent on food,” he said.