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Northern Township property owners ask for negotiation

NORTHERN TOWNSHIP - The people of Northern Township met with the Northern Town Board Monday night to discuss the long-standing Birchmont Drive dispute.

In the meeting, held at Northern Town Hall, Chairman Mike Kelly said the township has two options in front regarding the Birchmont Drive sewer and water extension project now that accelerated annexation is out of the question.

The project was initiated in February 2005. Because the properties were within the annexation area, the city of Bemidji was the governmental agency in charge of awarding bids, while Northern Township was responsible for approving the project and assessments.

The owners of 54 properties appealed their assessments to Beltrami County District Court on Dec. 22, 2008. A second reassessment was discarded this spring after the board realized it had used incorrect data.

With Phase I of annexation complete, the township was hoping to accelerate annexations of properties east of old Highway 71/Bemidji Avenue North and turn the reassessment process over to the city. However, in a joint meeting with the city of Bemidji and Bemidji Township June 19, Bemidji Township refused to agree to let the process move forward.

Kelly said either the board can go ahead with a reassessment of the 54 properties or sit down with the property owners and negotiate their assessments.

Supervisor Dan Bahr said it was up to those property owners to make that decision.

Kelly said something needed to be done to settle the current $1.4 million Northern Township has in bonds with the city.

"I think it's fair to let everyone know Northern Township is not willing to take money from the general revenue fund to take down those assessments," Kelly said. "The people requested the project. Northern Township was never going to pay. Two-thirds of those people accepted their assessments. Those utilities need to be paid for by the residents. The people who paid for their assessments don't want to have to pay for those who didn't."

Scott Thorson, one of the original appellants, said the group wanted to negotiate.

"As a group, we have always wanted to sit down and talk about things," Thorson said. "Our beef is with the city. They're the ones who instigated this whole thing. I think this whole thing can be resolved, but not with us and (the board). We aren't ridiculous. We never expected something for nothing."