Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The City of Havre and counties of Blaine and Hill are moving forward with a plan to provide public transportation in the area. “I am all for it, to be honest with you,” Havre Mayor Bob Rice said at a meeting Monday. “This is long overdue.” The group at the meeting discussed to provide how to create a system providing transportation to areas on the Hi-Line and to Great Falls, including possibly public transportation within Havre. The group is planning to apply for a grant of Federal Transit Authority money administered by the Montana Department of Transportation, with the application due by Feb. 1. The group would find out it received the grant by June or July. The meeting included Rice; Hill County commissioners Mike Anderson, Kathy Bessette and Mike Wendland; Blaine County Commissioner Delores Plumage; Evelyn Havskjold, director of the Hill County Council on Aging and the Area 10 Agency on Aging; Krystal Steinmetz of Bear Paw Development Corp.; and representatives of Opportunity Link: Executive Director Terry Munson and Leah Noel, community development coordinator for the anti-poverty organization. By the end of the meeting, the representatives of the three governments agreed to pursue resolutions stating an intent to create a transportation authority that would oversee the effort, allowing an application to MDT for funds to help pay for it. Rice said he could present a resolution stating the city’s intent to help the authority at the next meeting of the City Council for the council to vote on the issue. The group also said they would want the transit authority to work with the existing taxi service in the area. “We do not want to lose our taxi,” Havskjold said. “We have a good taxi service and we don’t want to lose it.” Havskjold said the authority doesn’t have to be in place to make an application for the grant, as long as the intent to form the authority has been stated. A transit authority in Phillips County was in the planning stages in 2006 when the groups working on the authority applied for their grant, she said. “That helps,” Anderson said. “We can’t do this in a month. We certainly can do it in six.” Munson said Opportunity Link, which has a primary goal of increasing public transportation in its efforts to reduce poverty in north-central Montana, could provide money to help with the project. “That’s what we’re here to talk about,” he told the group. Opportunity Link invested $80,000 for a similar effort in 2006 for a program instituted by the counties of Glacier, Toole and Pondera and the cities of Conrad, Cut Bank and Shelby. Munson said Opportunity Link would be willing to make a similar investment for the proposed system in Hill and Blaine counties. “We are willing to put money in,” Munson said. “Whether it’s $80,000 I don’t know. It may be more, it may be less.” That money would help start the program. Havskold said the program through which the group plans to apply for funds requires that the program has funding for three months before the grant funding kicks in. “That’s where everybody gets stymied,” she said. The transportation system could incorporate some transportation already provided, such as programs provided through the North Central Senior Citizens Center in Havre and the Chinook Senior Center. Havskjold said the new system would be open to all in the area. “We do want it for all ages,” she said. “We want it so a mother and children can go.” Anderson said the original plan was to create the program through an interlocal agreement, but that would require one group, such as the government of Hill County, Blaine County or the City of Havre to be the lead agency directing the operation. That puts a huge liability on that government, such as providing all insurance for the equipment and the workers, he said. “It’s inherently unfair to that one entity,” he said. Havskjold said the Hill County Council on Aging has also applied for a grant to purchase a computer system that could coordinate the existing transportation systems. Someone could use the system to find out what transportation is available through the Phillips County system or from Shelby and through the existing systems in Hill and Blaine counties and in Great Falls. After the meeting, Havskjold said the computer system would also tie together Hill and Blaine counties. “It will (allow them to) complement each other,” she said.