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Bemidji City Council: Annexation resolution may be approved

The Bemidji City Council is set to consider a resolution initiating the annexation of properties in Bemidji and Northern townships.

It is a decision that has been coming for more than five years, following the Joint Orderly Annexation Agreement approved in November 2004 by all three municipalities.

The council will convene for its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

Per the annexation agreement, specific parts of the townships become eligible for annexation in 2010, 2015 and 2020.

The Bemidji City Council last week voted to move forward with the first phase of annexation - but to leave out seven properties that are entangled in the reassessment process for Birchmont Drive, a road reconstruction project.

The decision from the council was prompted by a letter from Northern Township, which had requested that the city delay annexation until the reassessment process is complete.

City councilors and staff discussed the request during a two-hour work session before ultimately voting 4-3 to proceed this year.

The biggest concern in moving forward with annexation, cited by some city councilors and staff members, is the financial obligations associated with annexation.

"The most onerous challenge with annexation is providing for street improvement and maintenance," wrote City Manager John Chattin in an August memorandum.

The first phase of annexation will bring into the city limits 3.5 miles of roads, which includes 12 dead-ends.

Staff has estimated an additional $49,300 in annual maintenance costs, according to the August memo.

About $80,000 has been included in the 2010 city budget for annexation-related expenditures.

Other financial obligations include park maintenance (of Northern Town Park, also known as Algoma Park), added police coverage, administration work, storm water maintenance and refuse collection.

City representatives did not speak against the idea of ever proceeding forward with annexation, but some said it might be prudent for the city to hold off until 2011 due to recent cuts in Local Government Aid and the city's current financial state.

"Nobody is suggesting that we don't annex," Chattin said at Monday's work session. "We are suggesting we delay it for a year."

Councilor Barb Meuers and Greg Negard, in particular, were concerned about the financial ramifications.

"I'm concerned about our financial state," Meuers said.

Eventually, the city will collect tax dollars from the annexed properties, but it will not be immediate.

During the first year, in this case 2010, the township maintains its taxes levied against the properties, according to the annexation agreement.

The first full year of annexation, the township will keep 100 percent of the township property taxes.

On the second year, the township gets 80 percent of city taxes. Then 60 percent in year three, 40 percent in year four and 20 percent in year five.

The city will keep all city property taxes from year six and beyond.

Councilors Roger Hellquist and Ron Johnson were the most vocal in supporting annexation.

"This is the exact thing we should be doing," Johnson said. "If we're waiting until things get better, we could be waiting for years and wishing we could build tax base."