Havre Daily News
Two Havre business owners have chipped in to purchase the city a new cement mixer, which city workers used Thursday to patch up a sidewalk in front of the businesses that city officials considered a safety hazard.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said the city provided labor because the sidewalk was a danger to pedestrians and a possibile insurance liability for the city. He said the city will work with other property owners to repair hazardous sidewalks.
Rice also reversed his weeks-old promise to seek written agreements in cases where the city works with property owners on projects.
"I don't need a written agreement," he said. "If someone gets p----- off because it's an election year, I'm not going to be concerned about that."
Atrium owner David Shaw, Office Equipment owner Garrett Edmonds and Tom Heely, whose wife owns a portion of the parking lot at the rear of the buildings, covered the cost of a new mixer, which will be used to patch broken sidewalks all over town, Shaw said.
City workers used it Thursday to fill in cracks and holes on the Second Street sidewalk in front of their businesses. The owners, along with Heely, also paid for the materials to have the sidewalk fixed, Shaw said. The city provided the labor.
"The city's cement mixer had some trouble," Shaw said today. "They needed a new one."
"(Shaw) had talked to me a while back, and I told him I was concerned," Rice said. "... I went down there and there was a hole deep enough to put your foot in. That's when I decided it needed to be fixed before somebody got hurt."
"They're a hazard," Shaw said. "The downtown area needs some help. If everybody pitches in, it'll help out. Bob's helping us out. He's the kind of guy that gets things done around Havre."
Rice said the city will continue to repair aging sidewalks as time is available.
The Montana Municipal Insurance Authority, a self-insured organization of 120 cities and towns that provides liability insurance for the city, has recommended the hazardous sidewalks be repaired.
"Sidewalks that are in the public right of way are the responsibility of the public agency," MMIA chief executive officer Bob Worthington said Thursday. "Sidewalks are a significant exposure for municipalities. ... The advice we give to the communities is, they are ultimately responsible for that exposure. We've encouraged the cities to try and manage the exposure. That management ... is in the best interest of the city and all of the taxpayers."
The city has an ordinance that allows it to put the responsibility for the maintenance on the property owners, Havre public works director Dave Peterson said. If owners are unable to pay for repairs or refuse to pay, the city can have the work done and assess the owners on their property tax bills, Peterson said.
Rice, who said two weeks ago that he would no long work with property owners on city projects on "a handshake," said Thursday that he won't seek written agreements for any sidewalk repairs.
Havre City Council member Pam Hillery, who had asked that a bill for the paving of Third Avenue West be held back until it was clear whether the city had gathered written or verbal agreements from the property owners to pay for it, said it is important to have agreements in writing.
"In a perfect world, a handshake and verbal agreement are satisfactory," Hillery said today. "Unfortunately, in business dealings, especially when taxpayer dollars are involved, we need to have written assurance. As we knw, when one person says something, it can be misinterpreted by another."
Hillery, who is the Democratic candidate for mayor, agrees that damaged sidewalks are a shared responsibility and should be repaired.
"I do believe the city has the responsibility to work with business owners on repairing sidewalks," Hillery said. "I think this is an important project."