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Council to debate south shore cleanup; Clock is ticking on decision that could lead to May ballot vote

BEMIDJI — Residents of Bemidji may head to the polls six months before the 2014 mid-term elections in order to decide a bond referendum that would fund cleanup on Lake Bemidji’s south shore.

On Monday, the City Council could decide on a resolution that would establish a May vote on the referendum.

City Manager John Chattin said in a memo to council members that the city’s timeline for choosing a company to do the cleanup requires “some immediate action.” The city has to select a bid by May 21.

Besides a bond referendum, there are two funding options available to the city, Chattin said: The city can fund the $1.4 million cleanup out of its reserves, but this would only cover the cleanup itself, not construction of a south shore park. Plus, this would leave only 40 percent of reserves for future unbudgeted expenses the city might have to pay.

The city can also scrub the bid process and make another attempt at getting state funding through the Legacy Amendment. The disadvantage to cancelling this round of bids from contractors lies in the added costs the city may face if it does a second round of bids, Chattin said.

A third option is to issue bonds, meaning the city would take out debt and gradually pay it off through an increase in property taxes. Before voters could approve or deny the issuing of bonds, the City Council would need to approve a resolution setting up the vote.

“If that resolution is adopted (Monday), it is possible to hold a referendum on May 20, one day before bids must be either rewarded or rejected,” Chattin said. “We would then know if we have the funds to pay for the work.”

Three possibilities for the question that may appear on the ballot include whether the city should issue bonds for the cleanup ($1.4 million), park construction ($1.3 million), or both ($2.7 million).

The issue of whether to use bonding to fund the south shore cleanup has been before the council for almost a year, according to meeting minutes. A December survey showed 51 percent of respondents were in favor of the city cleaning the lakeshore and the nearby lake bottom of industrial byproducts, mainly leftover wood fragments from the processing plants that used to occupy the land.

Monday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall and is open to the public.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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