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City sees surplus coming out of 2013

BEMIDJI -- The city of Bemidji has hundreds of thousands of dollars in un-earmarked money.

Emerging from 2013, the city's general fund has a surplus of $270,114, city finance director Ron Eischens told City Council members at a budget work session Monday.

The council voted unanimously Monday to follow the finance department's recommendations and divvy up most of the surplus.

About half went back into the city's general fund, per city policy. Of the remaining surplus, $100,000 was earmarked for the planned marina on the south shore of Lake Bemidji, about $27,000 was given to the fire department and about $7,300 went undesignated.

Before the vote, Eischens clarified that the city could change their allocations later if they wanted.

"Not to say that next week the council couldn't meet and decide they wanted to use some of the cash flow money for a different purpose," he said as an example.

Looking ahead

The council also discussed a list of 15 funding issues the city's department heads put together in a memo for the council to help choose priorities for the 2015 budget. The council didn't make any hard 2015 funding decisions Monday night, but they did reveal some of the city services and buildings they felt were important.

Council member Nancy Erickson wanted consideration of potential future repairs to the Sanford Center.

"I think that really our highest priority now ought to be taking care of the things we already have, and that means the events center," she said. "We know that inevitably it's going to need a new roof, it's going to need new things that are very expensive...we don't want to have those things to come hitting some council at this immediate need for which we don't have five cents."

Council member Michael Meehlhause wanted a review of all city-owned buildings, especially the library and city hall.

One of the possible funding issues on the list was a need for the Bemidji Police Department to hire an additional community service officer. The CSO already on duty, the memo said, spends much of their time handling animal impounding and maintaining kennels for stray dogs and cats. The existing CSO also is preoccupied with dirty yards, dead animals and other neighborhood complaints, thus reducing the amount of time the officer can spend on community police work, the memo said.

In response, Erickson wanted to know more about the kennels. Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin said the city operates 16 kennels, eight each for cats and dogs.

Erickson felt the task of operating the kennels shouldn't be handled by the city, rather, it should be handled an organization such as the local humane society.

"When did we go in the cat and dog business?" she asked incredulously.

Mastin explained that the kennels are operated because it is perceived as cheaper than paying a local veterinarian to kennel them, and police would still get animal calls regardless.