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Bemidji City Council discusses taproom ordinance

BEMIDJI – The Bemidji City Council signaled its support for moving forward on a taproom ordinance Monday night.

During its work session, the council discussed the proposed ordinance allowing taprooms at breweries and to allow licensed brewers to sell their beer in 64-ounce jugs called “growlers” or in 750-milliliter bottles for consumption off-site.

While the ordinance won’t have its first reading until the next regular meeting, the council seemed to be in support of moving forward. It also recommended an annual fee of $400 for a taproom license and $240 for the off-sale small brewer license, which will be incorporated into a proposed fee schedule.

City attorney Al Felix explained that even though Bemidji is a municipal liquor city, state officials have told the city its proposal is not out of line with state statute.

The Minnesota Legislature passed the so-called “Surly bill” in 2011 allowing licensed brewers to operate taprooms. Municipalities still have to choose to offer the licenses, however.

Craft breweries have sprung up across the state since the passage of the Surly bill. Bemidji Brewing, which currently operates out of Harmony Co-op’s community kitchen and has discussed the ordinance with city staff, hopes to continue that trend.

“It’s really going to advance craft beer in northern Minnesota as a whole,” Justin Kaney of Bemidji Brewing said of the proposed ordinance at the meeting.

Under the ordinance, a brewer would be able to sell only the beer he or she produces in the taproom, which would be connected or immediately adjacent to the brewery.

The council based its proposed fee amounts based on other cities with taproom and off-sale licenses.

JPB formula

The council hopes to keep the funding formula for the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board as it is now.

Under the current formula, Bemidji Township contributes 19 percent to the office, Northern Township 29 percent and the city of Bemidji 49 percent, while the airport adds 3 percent of the total.

The planning office was asked to consider recent annexation into whether the funding formula should change. Factors like land area, tax capacity and population can be used to determine those percentages.

Mayana Rice, the planning administrator for the JPB, considered several different ways the formula could be calculated, and they were relatively similar to the status quo.

Sales tax proposal

It’s too early to take a formal position on Gov. Mark Dayton’s sales tax proposal, the council decided Monday.

That came after Bill Batchelder, the owner of Bemidji Woolen Mills, asked the council to consider a resolution opposing the expansion of the sales tax to clothing.

“I’m asking for some help from my city, the only city I’ve ever lived in, to help a 93-year old business,” Batchelder said Monday.

City manager John Chattin said that from a city finance perspective, the overall sales tax proposal would be a good thing for Bemidji.

According to notes provided by Chattin, the governor’s sales tax proposal would generate $1.2 million more annually in local sales tax, allowing the city to pay off $44 million in bonds 12 years early – although Batchelder questioned those numbers.

Councilors agreed, however, that the legislative process has a long way to go and the governor’s proposal isn’t the final say. 

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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