By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Council member Terry Schend ended Monday night's council meeting with a call for the annexation of land served by city utilities and a request for the accounting of the money "for which we have not been paid or should have been paid" by Hill County.
County officials said today they do not see a problem with annexation but disagreed with some of Schend's points regarding city and county service.
Schend questioned why those who are using city services are not included in the city's tax base.
City public works director Dave Peterson said today the city provides water and sewer services to the commerical district west of town, with the utilities going as far as the state weigh station.
"I am in favor of annexation," he said. "Those areas that are connected onto our services must now be part of our city."
Peterson said businesses served by the utilities include Kmart, the Holiday Village Shopping Center and the site of a possible Wal-Mart.
Schend said the annexed areas could be brought into a tax increment finance district before development begins in order to gain additional tax revenue for use in future development. Schend heads a committee studying whether the city should create such a district in downtown Havre. A tax increment finance district would allow the city to set aside new tax revenue generated by property improvements as a fund that could finance additional improvements.
Schend said annexing the land would benefit the city through the state-collected lodging tax. If 22.5 percent of the proceeds collected for a municipality exceeds $35,000, then half of that amount is available to a nonprofit tourism entity. Schend presented approximate numbers for the first three quarters of 2004.
He said about $36,000 was collected in the county and about $96,000 was collected in the city. If the Super 8 west of Havre were annexed, 22.5 percent of the total collected by the city would equal $30,375.
Schend said a year's worth of collection would exceed $35,000, meaning that half the money could be used to build a convention and visitors center.
County Commissioners Doug Kaercher and Mike Anderson said they did not have a problem with annexation.
"This is my opinion, but I believe we wouldn't have any issue with annexing property as long as they take the good with the bad," Kaercher said. "If they're going to annex, they have to take all of the property, not just certain strips of land."
Schend said the Havre Police Department has been supporting the Hill County Sheriff's Office by supplying equipment and personel for after-hours law enforcement, for which the city has not been paid. He also voiced concerns over whether the city is protected against lawsuits when policing outside of its jurisdiction and questioned whether there has been an added liability insurance cost because of the practice. Schend said the department has been going out on calls in the early morning hours.
Police Chief Mike Barthel did not return a call today for comment.
Sheriff Greg Szudera flatly denied that his office has been using Havre personnel to handle calls.
"I don't know what he's talking about. I don't know where he's coming from," Szudera said today. "I have my own deputies." He added that Havre officers are sometimes called for backup.
Another law enforcment practice that causes "grave concern," Schend said, was the recruitment of Havre police officers by the sheriff's department.
Szudera also denied that his office has been actively recruiting Havre officers, and pointed to the case of a former deputy who is now employed as a city police officer.
"All of my job applications go through Job Service and go through the personnel board," Szudera said.
Schend also said city personnel and equipment have been used to maintain the county sewer system and other incidental services, and questioned whether the city has been reimbursed.
Peterson said city equipment has been used to unplug sewers or clean lift stations as needed, but the city has always billed Dick Nault Plumbing, which has a contract to maintain the county system.
Schend also had a problem with the county's payment to the city for its operation of the Havre Community Pool. He said the city, county and Havre school district entered into an agreement in 1978 for costs associated with running the pool. The agreement states the county is responsible for one-third of the costs, he said. He said the county's payment has fallen short of the agreement.
City finance director Lowell Swenson and interim parks and recreation director Chris Inman agreed Monday night that the county's share should be somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000.
Kaercher said the county paid $19,000 in 2004 for operating costs, and a dispute has arisen between the city and county over how much the county should pay.
"It's been an issue for the county over a period of years," Kaercher said. "At the time the agreement was signed, (one-third) was an appropriate amount. The county now has no direct say over the pool, and there has been other things added into their budget that would not be appropriate."