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Pioneer Cheers & Jeers for April 2

Hospitality tax should be passed

Bills authored by legislators representing Bemidji are pushing to give the city authority to impose up to a 1 percent tax on restaurant and hotel customers’ bills.

The hospitality tax’s proceeds would go to operations, maintenance and capital improvement costs of the Sanford Center, which currently receives a $400,000 annual subsidy from the city.

Not surprisingly, the tax is a polarizing issue, much like the event center itself.

The House bill is authored by Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji. The companion bill, authored by state Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, gets a hearing in the tax committee, chaired by Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook.

The hospitality tax appears to be a genuine, legitimate attempt to reduce city property taxes. City manager John Chattin projects it would generate $500,000 a year if set at the 1 percent level.

The Legislature should give its full backing to the proposal and grant the necessary financial tools for the city to manage the Sanford Center.

It’s not an entirely popular plan, but many of those who argue against the tax live outside the city limits.

Regardless of address, though, Bemidji offers a full slate of conveniences and amenities that make the community a terrific place to live. Those who work and play in Bemidji are benefactors to its dynamic, eclectic and diverse offerings.

Not all people benefit from all of the offerings, many which exist in part to the collective strength of a city serving as a regional hub for commercial, retail, entertainment and health care services.

Chattin, in a recent legislative hearing, said the Sanford Center “brings a lot of extra money into the community, which is one of the reasons we wanted to build it in the first place.

A lot of that money gets spent in local hotels and restaurants.”

Now that the center is built, the city must use all available tools to make it successful while being a steward of residents’ tax dollars.

A 1 percent sales tax to that means deserves full support from legislators.

Land dispute

Last week a Grand Forks, N.D., development group questioned Bemidji’s process in selecting a local group to build townhomes next to the Sanford Center.

Monty Lund, one of three men who comprise Blue Star Investments in Grand Forks, said the city failed to provide satisfactory answers for the selection process.

Blue Star competed with B&B Enterprises, a local partnership, to purchase the same land.

Both groups pitched formal presentations Feb. 20 to a city committee, which recommended Bemidji pursue an agreement with B&B Enterprises instead of Blue Star.

Blue Star claims it offered more money and Lund is questioning how the city arrived at its decision.

However, proposal review committee members claim the Grand Forks developer inaccurately portrayed events and purported inaccurate figures in a letter contesting the decision.

It remains unclear who is right, but this much is known: building quality townhomes is good for south shore development and could spark construction nearby.