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Beltrami County ends 2013 with accomplishment recap

BEMIDJI -- Commissioners wrapped up 2013’s final meeting with a recap of the county’s accomplishments and an unofficially tabled fire department debate.

Beltrami County Board Chairman Richard Anderson highlighted the county’s accomplishments for 2013 including: road improvement acceleration strategies, hosting a local road research board study, studying sales tax, a zero levy increase, electronic document management system, job evaluation study, ordinance revision to allow for e-cigarettes, adoption of an aquatic invasive species framework, continued veteran’s home initiative, resurrect a jail remodel project, hosted joint county and city meetings, DNR ditch legislation cooperation, strategic planning session, forming a county management team, creating a weed control program, adding a shooting sports park, collaborating with the city of Bemidji on channel piling removal and the Wilton Hill public hearing for land exchange.

The 2014 budget and levy was officially set at $17,486,013. This will be the third year the levy has remained flat. Budget expenditures total $70,737,020. Commissioners salaries will remain at $20,753.72 annually with an option to increase based on county position evaluations and per diems were passed at $50 for half-day meetings and $75 for full day meetings.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick will chair the first meeting on Jan. 7, 2014.

Fire department consolidation talks extinguished Bemidji Fire Chief Dave Hoefer presented the commissioners with a joint powers agreement concept between Bemidji Rural Fire Association and the Bemidji Fire Department. The union would combine efforts and assets to provide fire protection to 18 participating local government units.

“Ultimately allowing for long-term planning for fire protection in the Bemidji area along with long-term financial stability,” Hoefer said.

The key to that formula working is the word “participating.” Presently, tax exempt properties do not pay a fee for fire protection service. Under the joint powers agreement, they would pay $45.11 for every $100,000 in building value as assigned by the assessor’s office. Taxpayers are currently billed at $101 within city limits which would change to $45.11.

The Bemidji Rural Fire Association provides service to 17 cities and townships. Rurally, the cost shift would be from $46.11 to $45.11 per $100,000. Commercial properties would be charged at a different rate. All rates are hypothetically based on 2013 data at this point.

“Where there is a change though, the concept does have tax-exempt buildings, which currently would pay nothing,” Hoefer said. “Actually be paying for the cost of fire protection for that structure.”

Commissioner Joe Vene pointed out tax-exempt entities could decline payment. Hoefer said the Bemidji Fire Department and Rural Fire Association has been advised by consultants to seek legislation that would allow local government units to assess the fire protection fees. Until such legislation is passed, it would be optional for tax-exempts to pay.

Commissioner Jack Frost expressed concern over whether schools, churches and non-profits would have the ability to pay the fees, saying he was “not too keen on the new model.”

“It’s certainly not simple. It’s taxing county residents and we are not represented,” Commissioner Jim Lucachick said. “There are no county elected officials involved.”

Vene said that documentation circulated during the work session regarding an injunction filed in district court on the city of Bemidji was troubling and advised the consolidation be tabled. Lucachick added the county commissioners actually don’t take any action and the presentation was strictly informational.

“I don’t see any policy to be made, any direction to be taken as a county official. I don’t see anything. All I got is ears right now,” Lucachick said.

“My ears are really perked now, given this pending court action,” Vene said.

Hoefer said the joint union, to be called the Bemidji Area Fire/Rescue Department, would be looking to have local government units join by the end of 2014. The plans have been in the works for the past three years.

Bidding process review During the Dec. 3 board meeting, contractor Mark Thorson of Mark Sand and Gravel Co. out of Fergus Falls addressed the board regarding bidding processes. Thorson’s company faces a fine for a bidding job which was not completed on time due to weather conditions.

As promised, commissioners reviewed the bidding process during a future board meeting work session on Dec. 17. Commissioners discussed the issues that can affect a work project being completed on time, including extenuating circumstances and a contractor not performing.

Beltrami County Engineer Bruce Hasbargen noted the request for proposal, contract and any fines are implemented in accordance with the Standard Specifications for Construction manual.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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