BEMIDJI -- Expectations are high for a bonding bill at this year's state legislative session.
"It's a bonding year, so that, I think, is everybody's priority," said District 5A Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji. "Most importantly in the bonding bill is to include Bemidji's water well issue and their wastewater treatment plant upgrades."
The water projects cited by Persell include a new treatment plant near Bemidji's water wells and upgrades to its wastewater treatment facility. Regarding the former, the city is planning to build a facility to remove chemicals formerly used in firefighting foams that have been found near its wells.
The cost of the project is estimated at $16 million and the city is seeking $8 million in bonding dollars. The city is also considering upgrades at its wastewater facility to handle more capacity and meet new guidelines. The estimated cost of the improvements is between $10 million and $13 million.
"We also have a wastewater treatment upgrade issue in Deer River," Persell said. "I'm working with that one as well with (District 5B) Rep. (Sandy) Layman."
Along with bonding dollars, the city is also seeking authorization for a 0.5% sales tax through a tax bill. Revenue from such a tax would go toward the two water projects and capital needs at the Sanford Center.
"I asked for one to be drafted and of course the Legislature has to approve it and then it goes back to a public vote," Persell said. "I don't think what Bemidji is doing is out of the ordinary."
Another local matter on Persell's radar is the future of the states Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT program. The program is important to Beltrami County, as nearly 75% of its land is non-taxable.
"We did put more money into PILT last year, but Beltrami County is one of a handful of counties in the situation with a lot of public land and a tax base that isn't what it is in other counties," Persell said. "Not being a budget year, will we be able to put budget surplus money into PILT? I think those of us rural folks, Republicans and Democrats alike are going to be looking into that."
Attempts to reach other regional legislators were unsuccessful. The Minnesota Legislature is scheduled to convene Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Readers can reach Pioneer reporter Matthew Liedke at (218) 333-9791.