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Three governments to discuss annexation in separate meetings

BEMIDJI — The three local governments involved in annexation will each have a meeting over two days next week.

And in one form or another, each of them plans to address the events of the past week.

On Monday, the Bemidji City Council will meet behind closed doors to discuss pending litigation with Bemidji Township. That will come one week after it rendered a contentious 5-2 vote against a mediated settlement agreement to allow the township to leave the annexation and joint powers agreements.

Meanwhile, the Northern Township Board will meet for the first time since the mediated settlement agreement was signed May 31. Town board chairman Mike Kelly said a general discussion about what’s transpired between their partners will be on the agenda.

“Since this is still up in the air between the other two entities, it would be premature for Northern to take a vote on anything,” Kelly said. “I do anticipate that the full board is going to be discussing it now that the details have been released.”

Northern Township would not have a say in the mediated settlement itself, but would have to approve any amendments to the orderly annexation agreement and joint powers agreements that the three governments adopted in 2004. That would include amendments to release Bemidji Township as a party to those agreements.

And on Tuesday night, the Bemidji Township Board will vote on the settlement agreement, despite the fact it was denied by the city council.

“As the matter stands now, the town board plans to go forward because they think the agreement is enforceable,” said the township’s attorney John Steffenhagen. He has said that he anticipates unanimous approval by the town board.

Bemidji Township sued the city in August, claiming it violated the terms of the annexation agreement by not immediately providing city sewer and water services, unilaterally amending its public improvements policy and failing to provide enhanced street improvements, among other claims.

The city denied, however, that it breached the annexation agreement. The first phase of annexation that brought some Northern and Bemidji township properties into the city was approved by an administrative law judge in May 2012.

The mediated settlement agreement reached between the city of Bemidji and Bemidji Township would prevent the city from initiating any annexation of township property until June 2018, unless a bordering property owner petitioned to be annexed.

It also requires property taxes paid to the city by annexed property in 2013 be paid to the township.

Four members of the Bemidji City Council signed that agreement early Friday after almost 10 hours of mediation. But two of them, Jim Thompson and Reed Olson, voted against it Monday.

Only Mayor Rita Albrecht and Ward 1 Councilor Michael Meehlhause voted to approve the agreement.

A conference call between the township and the city is scheduled for June 17 in Beltrami County District Court. 

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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