By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Plans to create a tax increment finance district in Havre are slowly inching forward, but a final proposal for a district is still several months away from completion.
"Initially we thought we'd be done with a plan by October," said Terry Schend, Havre City Council member and chair of a committee formed to gather information and create a proposal for a finance district in Havre. "But I think we underestimated the amount of work we'd have to put into this."
Schend said he hopes to have a final proposal the committee can present to the City Council by early next year.
Schend and City Council and finance district committee members Tom Farnham and Pam Hillery met with Bear Paw Development on Friday to discuss how the group wants to move forward with plans to create a finance district.
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.
"You often need a big private investment to make these things fly,"said Craig Erickson, director of community planning at Bear Paw Development and past president of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
Finance districts were last discussed by the City Council in 1999, but no action was taken. Schend renewed interest in the districts when he brought the idea to council members again last fall.
"It could have big benefits in Havre," Schend said. "We could infuse some money into a business area, assisting business owners in the district and giving them some help to improve their property."
Farnham said he wasn't supportive of creating a finance district when it was proposed to the council five years ago because he thought it would take potential tax money away from the school district.
"The school district is really not as affected as other (taxing bodies) because we levy dollars, not mils," Havre Public Schools district clerk Rick Floren said at Friday's meeting. "It's not a financial issue for us."
Floren said the school district sets a dollar amount of money it needs for the year, and the Hill County Commission is responsible for adjusting the number of mils levied to bring in the money the schools need.
"It's more of a political, not financial issue," Floren said. "It would possibly require us to ask taxpayers for more money to cover our needs."
Before a tax increment finance district can be created, boundaries for a district must be identified - the committee has been looking at downtown Havre - then the group must determine the district's "blight"or infrastructure deficiency. After those steps are completed, the committee is required to prepare an urban renewal plan and determine its compliance with the growth policy. Then the plan must go before the public for comment and receive a stamp of approval from the City Council before it can be adopted.
Schend said the committee will spend the next month identifying a district in downtown Havre and documenting the area's blight - conditions that substantially impair the sound growth of the city or its environs, retard the provision of housing accommodations, or constitute an economic or social liability because of physical dilapidation, deterioration or construction.
"There's still a lot of work left to be done," Erickson said. "We're in the initial stages of developing a plan."
Farnham said he would like to create a district in downtown, from Montana Avenue to Seventh Avenue. He said the district's boundaries are important to the district's success.
"If you make the district too big, you're just wasting your time," Farnham said.
Erickson said the effort may or may not pay off.
"Finance districts are never a guarantee. But we're hopeful that a district would help us create jobs, generate tax revenue and give community members the downtown that they've dreamed of for Havre," Erickson said.
The finance district committee plans to meet with Bear Paw Development again in August to discuss the district boundaries and blight conditions the committee has documented.