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Local and state officials discuss fire district

BEMIDJI – Local and state officials met Monday night to discuss the possibility of a fire district in the Bemidji area.

The proposed district would be run by a joint powers entity made up of officials from the city of Bemidji and nearby townships.

The district would be responsible for fire suppression and prevention, technical rescue and non-transport emergency medical services for the cities of Bemidji, Turtle River and Wilton, as well as the townships of Bemidji, Durand, Eckles, Fern, Frohn, Grant Valley, Helga, Lake Hattie, Liberty, Northern, Port Hope, Rockwood, Schoolcraft, Turtle Lake and Turtle River.

The proposed entity would be funded by a fire protection fee based on a building’s value calculated by the county assessor’s office, according to a packet provided before the meeting. The fee would apply to both taxable and non-taxable properties that benefit from fire services.

More than half of Bemidji’s total market value is tax-exempt. Churches, public universities and hospitals are exempt from paying property taxes, which largely fund essential services like police and fire.

“For all the taxable entities, the townships, the city, we would be able to reduce our property taxes significantly,” Bemidji city manager John Chattin said during the meeting Monday.

But that funding mechanism would need legislative approval. Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, and Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, were in attendance Monday night.

Saxhaug indicated they’d be willing to bring the proposal to the Legislature if the local units of government supported it.

Almost all the local governments have formally supported exploring the concept of a fire district.

Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer said no local governments have rejected the idea of a fire protection fee, but some have called him with questions.

Fire officials are hoping to get the legislation passed this session, according to the meeting packet. The joint powers entity would begin operating on Jan. 1, 2014, according to the proposed timeline.

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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