Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The City of Havre has filed a lawsuit against the Hill County government, in which the city requests the court to find a 1974 agreement on pool funding to be valid, and ordering the county to pay the one-third of net operat ions expense for the Havre Community Pool, including more than $280,000 in shortfalls dating back to the mid-70s. Havre Mayor Bob Rice said the lawsuit was filed Monday after the city received an offer from the county, last week, offering to increase its payment from the $19,000 it paid annually from 2001 through 2006 to $30,000. The city had previously pressed for the county to honor the 1974 agreement and pay one-third. After a stalemate period and then a City Council vote to pursue legal action, the city presented a new offer in October to reduce the county's payment to one-fourth, or about $60,000 a year, as well as wipe out the request for arrears. “I was hoping that they would come at least halfway; unfortunately they chose to go with $30,000,” Rice said. Hill County Commissioner Kathy Besset te said the Hi l l Count y Commission could not comment on a pending lawsuit. History of account In 1974, when the city was considering building an indoor-outdoor pool, Hill County Commissioner Dan Morse and Havre Mayor Bernard Good signed an agreement that the county would pay one-third of the pool’s operating expenses, less any revenue from use of the pool. Since then, starting with the pool’s operation in 1976, the county has never paid exactly one-third. The county has paid a flat annual amount, more than one-third in two years and less than a third in remainIng years, except in the 1990s when the county paid in in-kind services. From 1992 through 2000 the county provided dispatching services to the city in return for its share of the pool expenses. In 2000, the city announced it was starting its own dispatching services once again, and under a 1991 agreement the county was to start paying its share for the pool. The county paid $19,000 a year, until the city sent a bill in November 2006 demanding a payment of one-third of the expense plus more than $280,000 in past-due payments dating back to 1977. After reviewing the agreement and the bill, Cyndee Peterson, then Hill County attorney, issued an opinion that the 1974 agreement was invalid as it did not meet requirements under state law for agreements between local governments. She also said that the past-due bill had no legal standing including due to the concept of offer and acceptance of the county payments and that it violated the statute of limitations. Since that time, the county has maintained that a new agreement needs to be negotiated. After a meeting in November 2007, the county sent a draft of a one-year agreement in which the county would pay the $19,000 it had budgeted for pool operation that year, with a new agreement to be negotiated before the next fiscal year. The city cashed the check for $19,000, but returned the agreement unsigned, saying the 1974 agreement was still valid, and then billing the county for the remainder of that year’s onethird payment. After receiving that letter, the county responded that it would make no further payments until a new agreement was negotiated. The commissioners said they had budgeted $19,000 for this year, but, again, would not pay until a new agreement was signed. On Oct. 6, the City Council approved following its Finance Committee’s recommendation to pursue legal action, but then proposed the new offer to the county, reducing its share to 25 percent of the pool’s operating expenses less income from users of the pool, about $57,000 to $60,000 for the current fiscal year. In an Oct . 30 meet ing between members of the City Counc i l and the Count y Commission to discuss that of fer, members of the Commission said they doubted they could increase the county’s payment by that amount, citing tight budgets and the likely need to fire employees in order to afford that increase. Some members of the Council agreed to consider a counterproposal from the county. Once that proposal was received, Rice said, members of the council told him it was not enough and to pursue legal action. He said the Council had tried to avoid a lawsuit by proposing the 25 percent payment. “They were just trying to do a last-ditch effort,” he said.