Bemidji Council finalizes fiscal matters for the year

The Bemidji City Council approved the 2021 budget, tax levy, Sanford Center financial plan and capital improvement plan Monday.

Bemidji City Hall 2020 web art.jpg
Bemidji City Hall.

BEMIDJI -- Bemidji Council members took action on several items Monday to set the city up for the year ahead.

During the meeting, the council passed the 2021 tax levy, budget and financial plan for the city-owned Sanford Center event facility, as well as the five year capital improvement plan from 2021-2025. By the council's work Monday, the tax levy for 2021 was set at $6.5 million.

The amount is an increase of $397,200, or 6.5% higher than in 2020. Because of new construction and addition of land annexed from Northern Township, Bemidji Finance Director Ron Eischens has said residents are unlikely to see an increase in their city taxes.

A majority of tax levy dollars will be going toward the general fund. In total, the general fund, which is used for police, fire and public works services, will receive $5.5 million.

Other uses of the 2021 tax levy include $30,000 toward capital needs at the Sanford Center, $385,000 for street improvements and $590,732 for city bonds.


After it passed a resolution to approve the tax levy, the council moved on to the budget. For 2021, the city is budgeting a total of $38 million in expenditures, a $2.2 million decrease, or down from 5.6% in 2020.

A large portion of the budget is made up of the general fund. For 2021, the general fund has $14 million, representing 36% of the total budget. Another substantial piece of the budget are enterprise activities, which come to $17 million.

Those activities include utilities, refuse services, municipal liquor store operations and workings at the Sanford Center. The city has also budgeted $4 million for special revenue criteria, such as Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board operations, as well as $2 million for debt services.

To approve the budget, Mayor Rita Albrecht, as well as Council members Nancy Erickson, Ron Johnson, Michael Meehlhause and Ron Johnson voted in favor, while Josh Peterson was against.

Another financial agenda item was the Sanford Center's budget for 2021, which had been presented at the council's last meeting on Dec. 7. For next year, the facility is budgeted to have a gross profit of $1.98 million and total expenses coming to $2.58 million.

The budgeted net loss will be $590,544, when accounting for an operating investment by the city of $450,000, the amount comes to $140,554. For 2020, the Sanford Center had an operating loss of $453,606, and also had an investment from the city of $450,000, bringing the loss to $3,606.

The Sanford Center is a 193,000 square-foot event facility operated by the Ames, Iowa-based company VenuWorks. Opened in 2010, the building is home to BSU's hockey programs, as it includes an arena with more than 4,000 seats, as well as conference spaces.

Since it opened, the Sanford Center has had losses of more than $300,000 yearly and receives operating investments from the city annually.


Before the city voted on the Sanford Center's 2021 financial plan, Johnson and Peterson cited concerns over the operating losses and the overall budgeting process for the facility. The Sanford Center's budget was approved 4-2, with Albrecht, Erickson, Meehlhause and Rivera in favor, while Johnson and Peterson were against.

A fourth approval made by the council was the capital improvement plan, which serves as a long term guide for planning projects to purchasing equipment. For 2021, the CIP expenditures and funding sources are included in next year's budget. The items listed for 2022-2025, meanwhile, are placeholders that have not been approved yet.

The CIP for 2021-2025 includes anticipated construction of $41.7 million worth of projects and equipment purchasing of $6.8 million. The total is $48.5 million over the next five years.

When including all projects and purchases for 2021, the total comes to $6.6 million.

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