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Lake Avenue utility extension voted down

BEMIDJI – The city council decided Monday not to go forward with a utility extension project on Lake Avenue.

Beltrami County plans on doing some work on the street next year, which would have allowed the city to do the project for less than it would cost to do it in the future. Installing the utilities from First Street Southeast to Fifth Street Northeast on Lake Avenue would have cost about $360,000, public works director Craig Gray said Monday.

“In a sense, we’re getting it as cheap as we’ll ever have a chance to get it,” said city councilor Ron Johnson.

The project would have provided service to 11 parcels on the east side of Lake Avenue that are part of Bemidji Township but scheduled to be annexed into the city in 2015.

The project was discussed at a city council work session last week, and the debate was held over until Monday.

There was some concern that there wasn’t a demand for the project, and it would take a while to recoup costs through connection charges.

City councilors Johnson and Jim Thompson voted to move forward with the project on the segment from First Street to Fifth Street, while Rita Albrecht, Roger Hellquist, Kevin Waldhausen and Mayor Dave Larson voted against it.

Ward 5 City Councilor Greg Negard, whose ward includes the project area, was out of town Monday and did not attend the meeting. City manager John Chattin said he spoke with Negard prior to the meeting, and he said he didn’t support it.

Albrecht said several people she met while door-knocking in the past week said they didn’t want or need the project.

“My concern is … we’re going to put the $360,00 out there, but we really have no one who wants to connect to that so we’re just going to spend that out of our sewer funds and not have anything to come back in with,” Albrecht said.

Birchmont Drive assessments approved

The council unanimously approved the assessments for seven properties that are involved in the Birchmont Drive dispute.

The seven properties were recently annexed into the city from Northern Township, where the legal saga has played out over the past four years. Five of the property owners objected to the assessments during a joint meeting between the city and Northern Township on Sept. 11.

During that meeting, dozens of other property owners also filed objections to the project. The Northern Town Board passed its assessment roll in late September.

Residents have objected to how high the assessments are and have questioned how they were calculated.

The issue has twice gone to court, with a judge ordering Northern Township to reassess the properties in 2009. The case was dismissed earlier this year after the township vacated its reassessments when a calculation error was discovered.

No residents spoke against the assessments Monday, and Zenas Baer, the lawyer who has represented the residents in previous legal proceedings, was not in attendance.

Street renewal project begins

The first step in next year’s street renewal project began Monday with the approval to prepare a feasibility study.

The report, which will be ready for council review in November, will look at proposed improvements, costs and preliminary assessments.

The proposed street segments include 20th Street Northwest, Pine Ridge Avenue and several stretches in the Nymore area.

City manager review

The city council called Chattin’s performance “satisfactory” in the past year during a closed meeting last week.

Larson said during the meeting Monday that the council concluded that Chattin’s communication with the council has improved.

“With this continued performance, we look forward to another period of very satisfactory interaction with the council as well as with those under Mr. Chattin’s charge,” he 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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