By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and local governments are looking at whether a tax increment finance district would help revitalize downtown Havre.
Larry Gallagher of the Helena office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development met with members of the Chamber board and representatives of local government Tuesday to explain how such finance districts work.
"He was up here to discuss tax increment finance districts, what they can do and what they have done in the state," said Craig Erickson of Bear Paw Development Corp. Erickson also is past president of the Chamber.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development, said a tax increment district is used to finance improvements made within the defined district. When a district is created, taxes are not increased, he said. Rather, as the value of property in the district goes up, the increased tax revenue that results from the increased value is put into a fund used to finance improvements in the district.
Denise Ladenburg of Independence Bank, second vice president of the Chamber, said setting up a district is a very complicated process and would take much more time and many more meetings.
"I certainly think it's something that's worth looking into," she added.
Erickson said Gallagher discussed what other Montana communities have used the districts for and their success with those projects. Cities including Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula have used tax increment finance districts to fund urban renewal projects.
Chuck Wimmer of Stockman Bank, first vice president of the Chamber, said an increment district could have long-term benefits, if it matches the city's needs.
"It's a long-term vision of how people think Havre could look like in the next 10 to 20 years. A plan could be put in place to do many different projects," he said. "It may not fit for Havre. We don't know yet."
Havre finance director and city clerk Lowell Swenson said the concept of tax increment finance districts has been discussed by the city before, but has never gotten to the stage of being formally proposed and voted on.
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller, who also attended the meeting, said he and the district are always interested in helping the community improve itself. The goal of a tax increment finance district is to expand the tax base by developing and implementing a plan to improve the district, he said.
"I believe the school district and the board would be very interested in that," he said.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said the county government would not be directly involved in a tax increment district - only municipalities are eligible to implement the districts under state law. However, he said, the county supports developing a revitalization plan, possibly through a tax increment district.
"If the long-term vision is there, I think it's a very workable tool for the community. If it's well thought out, I think it works great," he said. "But there's quite a bit of work between the discussion yesterday to the implementation of a tax increment district."
Kaercher said the Chamber proposed considering creation of a tax increment district several years ago in the downtown area.
The next step will involve considering what might be an appropriate area in Havre for a tax increment finance district, what improvements would be done, and how long the district would be in place, he said. Increment districts are generally used for 10 to 25 years, Kaercher said.