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Pioneer Editorial: Collaborate on plan for annexation

Two years ago the Bemidji City Council met with a consultant for more than four hours to discuss goals for the city through 2015.

One was south shore development. The other goal was annexation, a process which began in 2004 and led to a uniform planning and zoning ordinance.

In January 2010, some council members wanted to aggressively pursue annexation while others wanted to take a more deliberate approach. There was no consensus how to complete a process started in 2004.

Nearly eight years later the council is still uncertain how to complete the process.

Last fall, City Council members voted unanimously to push forward with the piecemeal annexation of Northern and Bemidji townships as part of a larger plan to incorporate properties by 2020.

Enough residents blew the whistle at a Jan. 3 meeting, prompting the council to delay extending the city's boundaries in Bemidji Township. But council members voted 5-1 to take in part of Northern Township and predictably reversed course this past Tuesday with a unanimous vote to delay the process there.

Now city and township officials plan to sit down to review annexation maps.

As they do, leaders would be advised to ask themselves what is the driving force behind annexation and what can be offered to reach a compromise.

Two clear benefits were born out of the annexation process. First, it led to the creation of the Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, which began to view issues from a broader perspective. Second, it laid the foundation for a uniform planning and zoning ordinance.

But annexation has proved elusive and the process has been delayed by legal battles and poor communication.

The city needs to clearly explain benefits to township residents and provide enhanced services to them. In return, township residents must take an active role in the process and realize the Bemidji area must work together on a shared vision for the future.

This week, annexation didn't become easier but let's hope the end result is a thoughtful plan borne from intelligent and respectful discussions.