BEMIDJI -- A preliminary tax increase of 4.3 percent was approved by the Bemidji City Council on Monday, with two months to go before the municipality takes final action on the proposed levy.

By passing a resolution, the council set the preliminary tax levy for 2020 at $6.1 million, and also scheduled a Truth in Taxation hearing for Dec. 2. While the increase comes to 4.3 percent from the 2019 levy, though, City Finance Director Ron Eischens said the net levy impact when accounting for new construction in the city is 3.6 percent.

In city documents, the levy increase was shown to be impacted by both revenue and expense adjustments. On the revenue side, the city is receiving a Local Government Aid increase of $161,426 from the state. Additionally, revenue adjustments range from more municipal street aid to a higher number of cable, electric and gas fees collected because of next year's annexation.

The majority of expenses, according to documents, are related to personnel cost increases, which come to $610,000. Other expense impacts include a $60,000 loss of airport fire services reimbursement, a $40,000 investment in a new legal secretary and a $33,600 for a new facilities manager. The council has also approved a $25,000 increase for the Parks and Recreation Department.

The city will vote on setting the final tax levy at its Dec. 16 meeting.

Sewer infrastructure improvements

Based on recommendations from the Public Works Department, the council also approved a pair of sewer improvement projects Monday. One was for the city's storm sewer system and the other for sanitary sewer lines.

With the latter, the council learned a section of a clay sanitary sewer main, installed in 1956, under an alley between Central Avenue Southeast and Wood Avenue needed replacing. The sewer line is also lacking in manholes, making maintenance difficult.

The council approved a $37,400.75 quote from Reierson Construction of Bemidji to replace the clay main line with PVC and also install sanitary sewer manholes for future maintenance access. When accounting for design and engineering work, the total cost of the project comes to $43,000, with the expenses covered by the city's sanitary sewer utility fund.

Monday's approval by the council included setting a construction period of spring 2020, instead of having work done this year.

Another recommendation by staff was to add a new storm sewer line in an alley between Third Street Northwest and Fourth Street connecting to Minnesota Avenue, as storm water runoff is getting trapped behind properties downtown.

The council voted to award a low quote of $49,254.06 to Reierson Construction for the project. When factoring in design and engineering, the total comes to $57,000. The cost will be covered by the storm water utility fund and work will take place next year.