Havre Daily News
The yellow light has changed to green on the $20 million First Street reconstruction project that has been scheduled to begin in Havre by 2007. The Montana Department of Transportation agreed today to pay two-thirds, or about $360,000, of Hill County's portion of the project's cost. The remaining third of the county's costs will be provided by the city of Havre, an MDT official said today.
“MDT will pay the remaining two- thirds,” MDT Great Falls district administrator Mick Johnson said today. “The project is too important to us not to move forward. I honestly believe every party did everything they can to make the project move forward.”
Hill County had said it didn't have the money to cover its portion, a position MDT officials had said could jeopardize the project.
The city has already agreed to pay its portion, more than $2 million, for the storm sewer project. The state will pay another $5 million and BNSF Railway has already contributed $1 million by building a storm sewer under the railroad tracks.
The county's portion was the final piece of the local funding puzzle.
“That's great,” Havre Area Chamber of Commerce president Denise Ladenburg said today upon hearing the news. “I thought that this was a huge benefit for Havre. The beautification and the infrastructure update, it was too huge a project to have ... fall through the cracks.”
The storm sewer project's total cost, including the BNSF drain, is more than $9 million, Johnson said today. About $8 million was to be divided among the state, Havre and Hill County depending on where the runoff draining under First Street originates. About 7 percent - or about $550,000 of the cost - was determined to come from land in Hill County.
But on Oct. 20, when MDT and city and county officials met to discuss the problem of the county's portion, the commissioners said the county had no way to assess property owners for drainage costs.
That's when Havre Mayor Bob Rice and Johnson said the city and state could each pay a third of the county's share. Johnson asked the commissioners to find the remaining $180,000 in the county budget.
“We don't have $180,000,” Hill County Commission Chair Kathy Bessette said Thursday.
This morning Bessette was to deliver a letter to Johnson asking the state to pay the difference.
“Our own infrastructure needs rebuilding,” Bessette said Thursday, explaining that the county did not have the money in its budget to contribute to the project. “We're just as sad as the city in some parts.”
Johnson had not received the county's letter yet this morning when he said MDT would pay the costs. He said he had spoken to Bessette on Thursday evening and knew the letter was coming.
“The county, honestly, did everything they could,” he said. “Mayor Rice has been absolutely wonderful on this project.”
About half of Havre's share of the storm sewer costs will be covered by federal urban funds, with the remaining half paid by a loan and increased drainage fees. The city has not said how it will pay for the $180,000 it will contribute for the county's portion.
Rice and the county commissioners could not be reached for comment today.