By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre City Council will invite an expert to explain to city officials how a tax increment finance district could finance improvements in downtown Havre.
Larry Gallagher of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Helena office will meet with the council on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m., before the council's regular meeting at 8 p.m.
Gallagher has helped create most of the tax increment districts in the state, said Craig Erickson, planner with Bear Paw Development Corp.
"He knows it inside and out. If you have a question, I can't think of a better person to answer it," Erickson said.
Gallagher met with members of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the city and county government and Havre Public Schools in July to explain how the districts work.
The city of Havre would define the boundaries of a district, Erickson said.
"It would have to be a designated section the city of Havre feels has to be fixed up or cleaned up," he said.
Once the district is created, property owners would be encouraged to make improvements.
As the value of property increased because of improvements, additional tax revenue that resulted from those improvements would go into a special fund. Taxes based on the original value of the property would continue to go into the city's general fund.
The money in the special fund would then be loaned to property owners to pay for other improvements within the district, Havre Mayor Bob Rice said.
The special financing generally is used for 10 to 25 years, after which the taxes on the increased value also would go into the city's general fund.
Rice said he has attended several seminars about tax increment districts.
"It's an interesting concept," he said.
Rice said Fort Benton has successfully used a tax increment district to repair its historic downtown section, including the Grand Union Hotel, Montana's oldest operating hotel.
The city has considered using a district, but the issue has never reached a vote by the City Council. Downtown Havre has been the focus in the past.
Rice said this morning that an area has to meet certain requirements to qualify for the designation as a tax increment district, such as the need for improvement.
Rice said the initial repairs on the Grand Union Hotel started the process in Fort Benton. Once the district was created, hotel owners Jim and Cheryl Gagnon borrowed money from the fund to finish renovating the hotel. That increased the amount in the improvement fund, Rice said.
The way Havre would encourage improvements in property would be up to the commission overseeing a district, Rice said.
He added that public meetings would be held about creating a district if it is pursued.
"We'll make sure everybody is on board," Rice said. "There's a lot of footwork that has to be done yet."