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Bemidji City Council: Annexation is a go

Properties in both Bemidji and Northern townships will soon become city lands following a Monday night vote by the Bemidji City Council.

The council voted 5-2 to proceed with the first phase of annexation as dictated in the orderly annexation agreement adopted by all three governments in 2004.

"We're just going forward with the plan that the townships asked for," said Councilor Ron Johnson, who made the motion.

The annexation plan, Johnson said, was developed over two years, beginning in 2002, following contentious battles between the townships and the city over annexation happenings.

"We haven't had any fights or lawyers for eight years because we have an orderly annexation agreement," he said.

But whether that remains is not yet known. Bemidji Township has hired a Twin Cities-based attorney, but the township has not indicated what its next moves may be.

All three governments gathered in a joint meeting Feb. 1, at which time they unanimously agreed to form two subcommittees - one per township - that would meet separately with the city within 60 days to re-examine the proposed annexation lines. While Northern Township and the city held that meeting, Bemidji Township did not respond to city attempts to schedule such a meeting.

"I'm somewhat upset with the leadership of Bemidji Township or lack of leadership," said Councilor Greg Negard. "It's kind of tied our hands."

"Bemidji Township, by not speaking, speaks the loudest of all," said Councilor Kevin Waldhausen. "I just feel it is time to move forward."

Opposing the motion were Mayor Dave Larson and Councilor Rita Albrecht. Albrecht said she did not have an issue with proceeding with Northern Township annexation - its supervisors have stated they were OK with it - but she was "torn" about moving forward with Bemidji Township annexation as its representatives have been "incommunicado" with the city.

"I'm not sure what that means for the city," she said, "but I'm certainly not anxious to engage in any legal action with them."

"I don't know that the city wants to be held hostage and be afraid to make a decision either way just because of litigation," Negard said. "We have an agreement that has been standing for eight years."

City Manager John Chattin in a memo to the council suggested the city proceed with Northern Township annexation but hold off on Bemidji Township until "such action does not have an adverse fiscal impact to the city."

Johnson referenced the decision made in 2010, the year in which the first phase originally was eligible for annexation. Then, Northern Township asked the city to wait as it was entangled in the reassessment process for the Birchmont Drive road reconstruction project. The city opted to hold off on both Northern and Bemidji townships because, Johnson said, the spirit of the agreement was to act as one.

"Frankly, we would have already had the first phase if it hadn't been that Northern asked," he said. "I think we recognize that this is a joint agreement and it should happen all together."