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Bemidji City Council approves 5% preliminary 2023 tax increase

The Bemidji City Council has approved a preliminary 5% increase to the city tax levy for 2023, though this number won’t be finalized until December.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI — During its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Bemidji City Council formally approved a preliminary tax levy increase for 2023.

The approval happened quickly since a relative consensus was reached by the council in its Aug. 8 meeting to set the city’s 2023 tax levy at $7,493,972, which represents a 5% increase from 2022.

“The last time we discussed the budget and the levy we had significant discussion on a number of issues. The council consensus at that point in time was to settle on a 5% increase for 2023,” said City Finance Director Ron Eischens.

This increase, which has a net impact of 4% when considering new construction, helps the city budget for a number of needs from additional city personnel to equipment.

However, the 5% rise does not budget for everything that was brought forward as a need, including additional positions at the police and fire departments.

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It also does not budget for the increasing costs of inflation, something that has already put the city into a projected deficit between $100,000 and $200,000 for 2022.

“For the last several years now, the challenge that we’ve had is finding methods to fund two things: capital and, the last year and a half, inflation,” Eischens said. “Inflationary increases will continue to take a bite out of our budgets, this year and next.”

This approval of the tax levy increase is only preliminary, and the final approval is expected on Dec. 5.

“At that meeting in December we can only decrease the levy, we cannot increase it from what we set tonight,” Eischens explained.

The council proceeded to approve the preliminary tax levy in a unanimous vote.

Other business

The city council also approved a bid for the design of a third clarifier at the new water treatment facility. There are currently two clarifiers at the site, but a third is needed to meet the state’s redundancy requirements.

The total cost to complete the project is estimated to be $6 million, which should be partially covered by a $4.4 million grant the city has received for the project.

The grant can cover a maximum of 80% of the project’s construction costs, leaving 20% to the city. The city will also be responsible for 100% of the engineering, design and administrative costs associated with the clarifier.

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Presented with multiple bids for the design and engineering of the clarifier, the council approved a proposal from SEH Engineering for the project, with a cost of $154,800.

The hope is for the design to be completed by the end of 2022, and for construction to run from 2023 to 2024 if things go well.

One of the last topics the council discussed during the meeting was a request from the Public Arts Commission to allow for up to four of its seven members to be non-city residents. The request arose since the commission has faced difficulty in filling its vacancies.

As the conversation progressed, some council members raised concerns about increasing non-city residents to the majority of the commission.

“I agree that there’s been issues in getting people to participate in committees, but I would like to see the majority stay within the city,” said Mayor Jorge Prince.

A compromise was reached by adjusting the change to allow for three non-city residents, an increase from the two currently allowed on the commission. This change will require an ordinance and will come before the council again for final approval.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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