City approves new planning inspector position and updates enforcement abilities

The Bemidji City Council took action on three subjects related to the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board Monday. The JPB handles zoning and planning matters in Bemidji and Northern Township.

Greater Bemidji Planning logo web art.jpg

BEMIDJI -- Three items related to the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning partnership between Bemidji and Northern Township had action taken Monday by the City Council.

The subjects were related to the Joint Planning Commission, which reviews zoning and planning matters before they go to the Greater Bemidji Joint Planning Board, the filling of an inspector position in the planning office, and enforcement of JPB rules. The first item was concerning how much JPC members are compensated.

Since the planning partnership was established in 2007, JPC members have been compensated $50 per meeting, which equates to a cost of $4,800 per year to the city when including all members and meetings. The proposal before the council on Monday was to increase the amount to $100, resulting in the total for the city coming to $9,600 annually.

In his comments, Ward 1 Council member and 2020 Chair of the JPB Michael Meehlhause said he supports the move.

"Those of us who've served on the Joint Planning Board know that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Planning Commission because they do a lot of the leg work on our behalf," Meehlhause said. "I think if you want a board or commission that is truly reflective of the community, that means having to compensate people for their time. If we want to continue to have quality candidates, I think it's right to compensate them fairly."


The council approved the recommended increase in a 5-1 vote, with Mayor Rita Albrecht and Council members Nancy Erickson, Ron Johnson, Meehlhause and Emelie Rivera in favor. The lone negative vote was from Ward 2 Council member Josh Peterson.

On the subject of JPB rules, the council voted on a new agreement between the city and township to better enforce planning decisions. The agreement states that the city will provide the JPB in Bemidji and Northern Township its administrative citation process to enforce violations of the JPB's ordinance.

Additionally, in the agreement the city will adopt a fee for civil fines on individuals violating the JPB's ordinance. Those fines, collected by the city, will then be transferred to the JPB. The city will also invoice the JPB on any hearing costs.

Through the agreement, the JPB may also make a request to the Bemidji Chief of Police or the Beltrami County Sheriff to have a law enforcement officer review an alleged violation of the ordinance and determine whether to issue a criminal citation. The JPB will also agree to pay for fees related to the city processing and prosecuting criminal citations.

The agreement was approved by the council in a 4-2 vote, with Albrecht, Johnson, Meehlhause and Rivera voting in favor, while Erickson and Peterson were against.

The third item for the council was to hire a compliance inspector and site analyst position. Once hired, the inspector will work under the general supervision of the planning director. In the role, the individual will assist with site plan analysis, conduct and document on-site visits and inspections, and receive and respond to inquiries from the public and developers. The inspector will also be in charge of preparing and issuing notifications of violations.

According to city documents, the position will be covered through reserve funds the JPB has. For the 2021 budget, the planning office will have $69,450 in reserves.

In total the 2021 budget for the JPB will be $392,461. Along with reserves, the budget amount is made up of $164,963 from the city, $57,103 from Northern Township's contribution, $6,345 from the Bemidji Regional Airport and $94,600 in revenue and fees.


Before voting on the matter, Erickson said she was in favor of the position, but had concerns over the amount the city was contributing.

Passing 4-2, the vote had Albrecht, Johnson, Meehlhause and Rivera in favor, while Erickson and Peterson were against.

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