By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre City Council has formed a committee of council members and members of the public to examine the possibility of implementing a tax increment finance district in downtown Havre.
A tax increment finance district is an urban renewal tool that allows communities to set aside tax dollars to use for improving an area. Once a district is established, any additional tax revenue that results from an increase in taxable value in the district goes into a separate account that is then used to help finance development and encourage private investment in the area.
The development strategy, made possible by the Montana Urban Renewal Law, has been used successfully in other Montana cities, including Helena, Butte, Missoula, Kalispell, Great Falls, Billings and Fort Benton.
At a meeting Monday night, City Council member Terry Schend asked for the council's approval to put together the committee. The council voted 8-0 to form the committee.
City Clerk Lowell Swenson said Havre Mayor Bob Rice, who was out of town on Monday and did not attend the meeting, had appointed Schend to chair the committee. Council members Pam Hillery, Emily Mayer Lossing and Tom Farnham also asked to be part of the committee.
Schend said after the meeting that he wants to appoint two to four community members to the committee as well. He hopes to have the entire committee formed by the next council meeting on Feb. 17, and possibly even have held a meeting by then.
He said he wants to present a draft plan for the council's consideration in five or six months. Such a plan is required before a district can be established.
Schend said he supports forming a district for downtown Havre.
"It's a very good tool for revitalization of a community, especially the downtown area," Schend said. "We're in a win-win situation if we move now."
The last time the issue was discussed, about four years ago, the council did not pursue it.
Hillery said she wants to make sure the committee membership represents many interests, and that members of the public with concerns come to the meetings.
"My concern is that we make it a very inclusive committee," she said.
Hillery added that one thing the committee will have to do in its plan is document areas in need of improvement.
Mayer Lossing said she asked to be on the committee because she's one of two City Council members who represent the downtown area, and also because a district may deal with historic buildings. Mayer Lossing is the city's historic preservation officer.
"I care about the buildings and if there's any work done on them I want to make sure their historic fabric is respected," she said.
Farnham said supports the creation
of a tax increment finance district in Havre. He said the committee's role will be to determine the boundaries of the district.
The council took up some other business on Monday night:
The Finance Committee heard a request from the Public Works Department to increase the rates the city charges for use and service for some of its garbage containers. Proposed increases include charges for 16-cubic-yard and 20-cubic-yard roll-off containers for both commercial users and special uses like construction work or demolition.
Under the proposal, the price for an extra pickup for commercial users would increase from $40 to $60.
The fee for use of one of the containers for a special use would increase to $100 per pickup, including a $4 rental fee for the first five days and $2 after that. They now cost $40 per month, plus $40 for each pickup.
The fee for an additional trash container at a residence would increase from $4 to $5 a month.
Havre Public Works director Dave Peterson told the committee that the city's prices have been the same since 1982, and that it needs to raise them so it can cover its costs.
The proposal was sent to the City Council, which voted 8-0 to send the matter to the Ordinance Committee. A date has not been set for the meeting.
The Water and Sewer Committee will meet Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. to review a draft of a proposed ordinance that would increase the city fee to reconnect water service, and allow the city to collect a water deposit from renters and new property owners.