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Birchmont Drive: Assessment appeals filed in court

 BEMIDJI – Residents disputing assessments for a utility extension project on Birchmont Drive filed appeals in Beltrami County District Court this week.

The appeals were expected, as dozens of residents filed objections to both Northern Township and the city of Bemidji before they passed the assessment rolls in separate meetings in recent weeks. The appeals, filed by Hawley, Minn.-based lawyer Zenas Baer, names Northern Township and Bemidji as respondents.

City attorney Al Felix said Friday the city was served late Wednesday afternoon with the appeal. Felix said city staff will discuss how to move forward in the coming days.

Jason J. Kuboushek, a Bloomington, Minn-based lawyer who is representing Northern Township, said the next step will be filing a response on behalf of the township as well as meeting with the town board to discuss the issue. He said settlement could be up for discussion, as well as the potential for success in court.

The Bemidji city council and staff, along with the Northern Town Board and Kuboushek, attempted to discuss potential settlement options in a closed meeting last month. But they decided against having the meeting due to a challenge from the Pioneer regarding open meeting laws.

The filing claims that the properties don’t receive a special benefit from the utility improvement and that the model used to determine that benefit is “not widely accepted within the appraisal community,” according to a copy of the filing provided by Baer’s office. The proposed assessment roll totals about $1.4 million.

The appeal comes after the case went to court twice since 2008, when water and sewer utility extensions were made on Birchmont Drive.

A judge ordered Northern Township to reassess the properties in 2009. The case was then dismissed earlier this year after the township vacated its reassessment roll after a miscalculation was discovered.

The third assessments were mailed out in August. Previously, Northern Township went to court over the utilities. But several properties have recently been annexed into the city, and five of those property owners are disputing the assessments.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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