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Area leaders meet with local lawmakers to discuss needs

BEMIDJI – Area business, education and government leaders met Friday morning to discuss their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

The people in the group welcomed their new senator, DFLer Tom Saxhaug. He defeated former Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, in last week’s election after the two incumbents were pitted against each other due to redistricting. Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji was also in attendance Friday. Included in the discussion Friday were improving roads in Beltrami County, higher education, helping the logging and tourism industries, and a special fire district for Bemidji and the neighboring townships.

Kay Mack, Beltrami County auditor/treasurer, said that among the issues the county may want to address are aquatic invasive species, cuts to county program aid and the county’s roads.

“We have a new engineer that has identified that our infrastructure is in huge need of getting addressed in a way more aggressive way than what we’ve been able to do,” she said.

Robert Griggs, vice president for innovation and extended learning at Bemidji State University, advocated for education, adding that state support has dramatically shifted in recent years.

“I started at BSU in 2000. When I came here, the state support was 60 percent of the operating budget of the university, and I think going into next year it’ll be something like 28 percent,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chris Leinen, director of business services at Bemidji Area Schools, said transportation funding and early-childhood education are priorities. He said the funding mechanism for school transportation doesn’t adequately address Bemidji’s need, as buses here have to travel much longer distances than those in the suburbs to get kids to school.

“We need a closer relationship between the revenue and the expense,” Leinen said.

Persell indicated his support for a proposed veterans home in the Bemidji area.

“I feel like we’re poised to do that,” Persell said. “The need has been well-demonstrated.”

Bemidji Day at the Capitol, sponsored by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled for Feb. 6.

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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