By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Several Heritage Center supporters turned out Tuesday night to urge the Havre City Council to carefully consider whether to allocate $10,000 to refurbish a city park.
"I think that $10,000 would be better served somewhere else," Elaine Morse, vice president of the Clack Foundation board, told the Finance Committee of the City Council after it voted 3-0 to approve the allocation. Morse said there are a few other city parks within four blocks of the narrow park formerly known as Tourist Park, located in the 1100 block of First Street between First and Second streets.
"Putting $10,000 of playground equipment (into the park) is a foolish waste of the city's money when you're already struggling," Morse said.
The entire City Council will vote Sept. 15 on whether to pay for playground equipment at the park.
The money is available thanks to a $165,000 federal grant that helped buy a firetruck for the Havre Fire Department last year, freeing up some money in the department's capital improvement project fund. CIP funds are accounts the city can use to save money over a period of years to replace equipment and other large projects.
About two weeks ago, Havre Mayor Bob Rice met with Fire Chief Dave Sheppard about transferring $10,000 of about $50,000 remaining in the department's CIP fund to go toward playground equipment in the park.
During the City Council meeting following Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting, four people urged the council to consider helping the Heritage Center, while two simply questioned whether it would be better to use the money for other parks in the area.
"I just question whether this is the place to spend the money and if it's well spent," said Arleen Rice, who pointed out that Carpenter Park is nearby.
"I don't think your vision of the park is the same as mine," Mayor Rice responded. "This is going to be a small children's park."
He said he wants equipment for 2- and 3-year-olds, as well as two sandboxes and a picnic table with a canopy.
"When you take a look at the east end, it needs some work," he said.
Rice said he had been planning on fixing up the park for about 16 months, before city funding for the Heritage Center was a major issue. He added that he supports the Heritage Center.
"I know the Heritage Center is struggling for money also. I am not giving up on the Heritage Center," he said.
Rice also said the city could not use the money for the Heritage Center even if it was not being spent on the park.
"We couldn't take that $10,000 and transfer it to the Heritage Center because you don't have a CIP," he said.
Clack Foundation board member Ardelle Hurlburt read a statement to the council saying that with "timely help" from the city, the foundation may be able to put enough money into its endowment fund to be able to begin drawing interest and using that to support the building.
"Without timely help we may not get there," she said.
Hurlburt also warned of consequences if the council doesn't give the Heritage Center financial help.
"The members of this council should be aware that their decisions in this matter may have far more reaching effects than they now anticipate," she said.
This morning Hurlburt said she was referring to the possibility of the foundation turning over control of the building to the city.
"I meant that if the foundation is forced to relinquish the Heritage Center to the city, they're going to run into some real problems," she said. She added that at this point she believes the foundation will continue to try operating the building, but said there is no guarantee the foundation will be able to make ends meet.
The city has owned the historic building since 1996, when it was purchased from the U.S. Postal Service for $150,000. The Clack Foundation contributed $50,000 to the purchase.
In 1996 the Clack Foundation leased the building from the city. 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 building running.
The foundation came to the city several times this spring and summer asking for financial and in-kind help to help ease the burden of running the building, which faces monthly shortfalls of about $600 and serious maintenance problems. The foundation said it might walk away from the building if no help was available.
The City Council agreed to provide maintenance and other services for the building.
In an interview last week, Morse said the foundation board met last week and the week before to discuss the future of the foundation's role in the historic building. Morse said the board has made a decision, but would not say what that is.
"We're not ready to make an announcement," she said. The board's next meeting will be later this month.
Morse said this morning that her decision to speak at the meeting was not related to the board's decision of whether to continue to operate the Heritage Center. She said she does not think the playground equipment is a good use of the city's money.
"I still as a taxpayer think it's a waste of our money in that park and it has nothing to do with whether the money should go to the Heritage Center instead," she said.
Emily Mayer, the most vocal supporter of the Heritage Center on the City Council and a representative of the ward where the park is located, said she supports purchasing the playground equipment.
"Anything to improve the quality of life for our residents is something I am going to support, whether it is an historic structure or a neglected park," Mayer said this morning, adding that she supports the Heritage Center, and will continue to do so.
Mayer, who is also a member of the Finance Committee, said she doesn't think the people who addressed the council were fully aware of how city funds can and cannot be used.
"There are certain restrictions on the way money can be used or transferred. The rules are very complex," she said.
Mayer also said she does not think the group was off-base by coming before the council.
"I don't think their approaching the City Council was inappropriate and I don't think their comments were unwarranted," she said.
The City Council addressed several other items Tuesday night.
The council voted to formally advertise for bids for the city prosecutor position. Bosch Kuhr Dugdale Martin and Kaze PLLP, the law firm that's served as Havre's city prosecutor, was one of two firms hired earlier this month to provide public defender service for Hill County. The firm's contract with the city expires at the end of this month. It will continue to provide other legal services to the city, but Rice has said the city will hire a replacement prosecutor.
The Ordinance Committee considered a draft of a proposed special events ordinance to establish a new permit to ensure that events on city property - like parades - are insured. The committee decided to look more closely at the draft to define some of its vague language. In particular committee members were concerned about the minimum size gathering that would require a permit, and whether events like weddings in city parks would be able to serve alcohol. The issue will be taken up again by the Ordinance Committee on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.