Library and jail operations discussed at joint city and county meeting
On Monday, June 28, the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners and Bemidji City Council held a joint session to address shared issues. Two topics of note was the Kitchigami Regional Library System's surplus and the future of the Beltrami County Jail.
BEMIDJI -- The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners were joined in their meeting chambers on Monday night by the Bemidji City Council , their first joint session since May 2019. Topics covered during the meeting ranged from facilities of both governments to updates on upcoming projects.
One agenda item with plenty of discussion was the involvement of the city and the county in the Kitchigami Regional Library System. The system has libraries in Bemidji, Blackduck, Brainerd, Cass Lake, Longville, Park Rapids, Pine River, Wadena and Walker.
In her statements, Bemidji Ward 5 Councilmember Nancy Erickson raised concerns over the number of funds the city contributes to the system, which she said is higher than other communities. Additionally, Erickson said the city is continuing to be levied, despite the system having a surplus exceeding $6 million.
"I'm disgusted and angry that my citizens are being over-levied," Erickson said. "And now, the new budget comes out and they want another 3% from the city."
"Overabundance of reserves is simply over-taxation of your constituents," said Beltrami District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick, who previously sat on the Kitchigami board. "It's about balancing the budget. Expenses change and revenues should be adjusted. It should be adjusted accordingly."
In his remarks, Kitchigami board member and Beltrami District 2 Commissioner Reed Olson said the library system's spending is done in accordance with state rules. In response, Beltrami District 1 Commissioner Craig Gaasvig suggested approaching the Legislature for a change in statute language to allow more flexible spending, which could lead to a more agreeable surplus.
Another matter before both government units was the future of the Beltrami County Jail. Constructed in 1989, the jail is an aging piece of infrastructure with limited space.
The facility can hold a total of 132 inmates. Because of a lack of space, the county on a regular basis needs to pay other counties to hold inmates at other jails at a cost of $55 per day.
The subject has been under discussion for several years and in the spring, the county established three new committees related to programming, finance and design/operations to explore the future of the jail. Additionally, those three committees will report to an overhead steering committee, which Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince sits on.
In an address during the meeting, Beltrami County Sheriff Ernie Beitel said a presentation will take place at the commissioners' July 6 meeting. There, a recommendation will be made to select a project managing firm.
The next step, Beitel said, is to begin working toward a feasibility study that will explore all options for the facility, ranging from a remodel to a new building. As a whole, the jail issue could take five to seven years.
Other subjects touched on during the meeting included:
- An update on the Bemidji Veterans Home, which is expected to break ground in August. Once finished, the care facility will have 72 beds for veterans.
- An announcement that the Bemidji Regional Airport, owned by both the city and county, will begin reviewing zoning rules and regulations.
- Ideas for the future of recycling operations in Bemidji.