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Bemidji City Council holds Truth in Taxation hearing, approves display of tribal flags

During the Bemidji City Council’s meeting on Monday, Dec. 5, a Truth in Taxation hearing was held as a part of the 2023 budget process and the council unanimously approved the display of three tribal flags in city hall.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI — The Bemidji City Council unanimously approved the display of the Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nation flags in city hall during its regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 5, alongside holding a Truth in Taxation hearing as a part of its 2023 budget process.

The hearing included a report by City Financial Director Ron Eischens, who provided an overview of the city’s budget and the tax process, focusing on the city’s proposed levy for 2023.

In a previous meeting in September, the council approved a preliminary 5% levy increase for 2023, setting the levy at $7,493,972. Eischens noted that this increase was notably lower than the state average.

“The state average for the increase in city levies is actually 9.1%, so we’re significantly below the state average,” Eischens explained. “(That) doesn’t mean it's good or bad, just provides perspective.”

In his report, Eischens also discussed the impact of inflation on the city’s budget and explained that because inflation was not budgeted into the city’s non-personnel costs, there may be some reduced services in 2023.

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“There may be reduced services in some departments in 2023 because they don’t have the same budget dollars to provide services that they’ve had in the past,” Eischens said.

One area that has already been hit is the city’s annual street renewal project, which City Engineer Craig Grey explained has been drastically reduced for 2023 because of the high costs of construction materials.

“We’re not seeing a 6% inflation in construction costs, we’re seeing a 10 to 15% inflation,” Gray said.

Because of the high costs, the city has had to drastically reduce the amount of road it plans to repair in 2023. Of the around 100 miles of road maintained by the city, the plans for the 2023 Street Renewal Project will only repair around half a mile. If this rate were to continue, a full rotation of repairs for the city's streets would take over 150 years.

The proposed 2023 budget also leaves other items unfunded, including several capital improvement needs.

However, the low levy increase also means less of an impact on residents’ property taxes, which are already seeing significant increases due to inflation and a dramatic rise in property values from 2022.

“Inflation is hitting us as a city, we’re aware of that,” said Mayor Jorge Prince. “It’s hitting every individual as well.”

Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson also shared that when discussing Bemidji’s levy increase with other municipalities, he was proud that it was lower than other cities.

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“Bemidji was the smallest (increase),” Johnson said. “I was really proud of our city for keeping our taxes so low.”

Other councilors expressed concern over the items that the proposed budget left unfunded, however, and the impact the low tax levy might have on the city’s services.

“We have many unfunded items right now, that’s why I stood for a higher amount (of a levy increase),” explained Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera. “The reality is that the costs have gone up.”

Tribal flag approval

Also during the session, the council unanimously approved three resolutions to display the flags of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nations in city hall, the culmination of a discussion first brought to the council over one year ago.

The flags, which will be displayed in the lobby of city hall, will have a ceremony for their placement at 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 19.

“I’d like to thank the entire council for coming to a solution and a good place for these resolutions to finally come forward,” said At-large Councilor Daniel Jourdain, who played a large role in the initiative. “I know it’s been a long process, but I really appreciate everyone’s efforts to improve the communication with our fellow tribal nations and the constituents that reside in the city.”

Displaying the flags aims to represent the relationships with each of the three neighboring nation’s governments and make city hall a more welcoming space for Bemidji’s Native American residents.

“It takes much more than just flags,” said Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer, “(but) I am very pleased that we are working on partnership and improving our communication. It’s about our community.”

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