By Jerome Tharaud
The city may be forced to close the Heritage Center because of the thousands of dollars of repairs the building needs, Havre Mayor Bob Rice said.
"We are drawing very close to a situation where we will not be able to keep that place going," Rice told the Havre City Council on Monday night.
He detailed $20,000 in repairs needed for the furnace, as well as work to the building's wiring and lighting systems. The building no longer has a janitor, Rice said, and is being cleaned by a group of youth offenders that he supervises.
The city has owned the building since 1996, when it was purchased from the U.S. Postal Service for $150,000. The same year the Clack Foundation became responsible for the lease. The foundation's five-year lease ran out in August 2001, but under its current "tenancy-at-will" agreement with the city, the foundation can continue to use the building until the city asks it to leave. The Clack Foundation has continued to pay to keep the bulding running.
"I can no longer let this thing perpetuate into a problem for the Finance Committee, and that's where it's going," Rice said.
Rice recommended that the City Council take action on the problem because of concerns that maintenance would take increasing amounts of taxpayer dollars. "My biggest concern is the taxpayers and what they want to do," he said this morning. The taxpayers, he said, were originally told that the building wouldn't cost the city anything.
A total of $46,001 has already been allocated to fix the roof through the Community Transportation Enhancement Program, a state Department of Transportation program that give cities and counties grants for various public projects. The project will probably end up being more expensive than that, said Bear Paw Development Corp. planner Craig Erickson.
Clack Foundation Vice President Elaine Morse is confident that the foundation will come up with the $4,000 it still needs to make the 13.42 percent match required before it can use CTEP funds.
Morse said she is confident that the foundation will raise the money in time for the roof to be repaired this year.
But the pricetag won't stop at the roof, Rice said. "Once the council approves that CTEP money, then the council is obligated to do whatever it takes to keep that building up," he said. This, he said, would require the city to pay thousands of dollars to fix the wiring, lighting and furnace, or risk having to reimburse CTEP funds to MDT.
But Erickson said that is not really a concern. "The building is nowhere near the point where anybody's talking about the reimbursement of funding," he said, and added that the state transportation department is not looking over the city's shoulder.
"The building would have to really be falling apart for anybody at MDT to bring it up," Erickson said.
Maintenance concerns aside, the Clack Foundation, which leases the building from the city, does not receive enough in rent to run the building, Morse said.
"We are not making anything on the building," Morse said Wednesday. "We are not even making enough money to pay the bills, let alone fix the roof."
Morse said the foundation brings in about $2,200 from rent every month, but it costs $3,200 per month to run the building, so the foundation faces a $1,000 shortfall every month.
Despite these monetary woes, Morse said the foundation does not plan to walk away from the building. "We could walk away, but that's not what we want to do," she said.
Rice also said he did not want the building to close.
"There are certain aspects about the Heritage Center that are very, very valuable to the community," he said today.
There are a few possible solutions to the problem, Rice said, including selling the building.
"We could sell it to the Clack Museum for one dollar," he told the council, but acknowledged the problem would not be solved, because then the CTEP funds would no longer be available to fix the roof.
Erickson agreed that MDT stipulates that the city not use CTEP funds to "make the building more marketable and turn around and sell it. It has to remain open to the public for a certain amount of time," he said.
"It's my feeling that the roof needs to be fixed no matter who owns it," Rice said.
Another option, he said, is to commit the city to maintain the building and put more money into it.
Other options include getting the city and county to fund the building's monthly costs, like the electric and gas, he said.
Rice said ultimately he would not be the one to decide what to do with the building. "That's a decision I think the voters of Havre or the council should do," he said.
On Monday night Rice asked the council to begin discussing the matter on March 17. He also said that he would put together a meeting later this month between the council and a group of Heritage Center tenants and others with a direct concern with the building.