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Bemidji tax levy, budget for 2022 previewed before finalization

During its first meeting in December, the Bemidji City Council was given a presentation regarding the 2022 tax levy and budget. The presentation was part of the annual Truth in Taxation hearing, which is an informative session both for officials and residents on the next year's finances.

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

BEMIDJI -- Before the final vote on the budget and tax levy scheduled later this month, Bemidji residents and the City Council were given a preview of what to expect financially in 2022.

According to a Truth in Taxation presentation given by Bemidji Finance Director Ron Eischens, the total city budget for 2022 is $50 million, a $12 million increase from the amount in 2021. The largest driver is the city's new Water Treatment Plant that removes chemicals from its wells, a $9 million line item in 2022.

The 2022 levy, meanwhile, is expected to be $7.13 million, an increase of $619,165, or 9.5% from 2021. However, when accounting for the value of new construction, the increase is effectively 8.5%.

The tax levy includes $6.2 million for the city's general fund, which funds police, fire, parks, public works and general government operations. The levy also includes $210,000 for capital improvements at the city's event facility, the Sanford Center, as well as $385,000 for street improvements and $267,055 for debt services toward the Public Works Facility.

The general fund was a major focus of the Truth in Taxation session. Eischens said the fund is one of 29 for the city, and it makes up 29% of the total budget.

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Eischens said a large portion of the general fund, 42%, comes from property taxes. Another major contributor is state aid, which represents $29%.

For 2022, the general fund will have a total revenue of $14.73 million and expenses amounting to $14.58 million. The result is a surplus of $157,000.

RELATED: Bemidji City Council shows interest in using ARP funds for parks, public safety

Eischens said revenue is projected to rise by $958,000 in 2022, with $791,000 more in property taxes. Expenses, meanwhile, mostly came from personnel costs totaling $609,000.

According to Eischens, surpluses and deficits in the general fund are dependent on major city purchases. For example, the city had a $170,000 deficit in 2019, as a new fire ladder truck was purchased that year.

The majority of the general fund dollars goes toward police and fire services at 44%, followed by public works at 17%, general government at 16%, parks and recreation at 10%, with 6% to equipment and 3% to the Sanford Center.

The Bemidji City Council is scheduled to take its final vote on the budget and tax levy at its meeting Dec. 20. Regarding the latter, Eischens said the 9.5% levy increase does not reflect that amount of a rise on homeowners' taxes.

Instead, Eischens said it will result in the city's tax rate increasing to 4.4%. As a result, Eischens said if a homeowner's property value remains the same, they'll see a 4.4% increase to their taxes.

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Parks and Recreation planning

Another agenda item for the council was a recommendation by the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department to hire a firm that would help the agency with as it conducts strategic planning. In the last two years, the department and the city's Parks Commission have been approached by user groups and community members requesting amenities and having discussions regarding current policies.

As a result, Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson and the commission both concluded that a new strategic plan should be drafted. The department has done two other strategic plans in the last 10 years, one focused on capital improvements in 2011 and another on programming in 2018.

RELATED: Parks and Recreation shares operation highlights with Bemidji City Council

The recommendation from the department was to hire JFC Strategic Services as a consultant at a cost of $51,900. The name of the project is the "Equity Based Strategic System Plan."

"This is a really important aspect for the commission, wanting to ensure the process of engagement is inclusive to all of our residents, and in particular, how we provide our services," Larson said. "We want to make sure everyone has some sort of access point to our parks."

The recommendation was approved by the council in 4-2 vote. Voting in favor were council members Josh Peterson, Ron Johnson, Emelie Rivera and Daniel Jourdain. Against the recommendation were Mayor Jorge Prince and councilor Audrey Thayer.

"When I look at the methodology, which says 'we don't plan to hold meetings with individuals or individual groups in an effort to contain costs,' that concerns me," Prince said. "Some of the most underrepresented populations are the smallest. If we just have focus groups, my concern is that some folks will be missed."

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