The county stands to lose revenue with the city annexation of property. How would you make that up?
LaVoi: I don't know how much advance notice was given before actual process began but I feel to be fair to properties involved there should be perhaps up to ten years notice of future plans. This would not only help the businesses to prepare if needed but also the county to prepare for the change in revenue drop. The county commissioners don't have a magic wand to replace that revenue. Even raising taxes the maximum amount, which is small, will not come close. The immediate action would be to evaluate how much will be saved by the city now providing services to same properties. Working with the city of Havre on possible consolidation of services could help. A thorough evaluation of county-provided services to look for ways to increase efficiency, to cut expenses and still provide for the needs of the people. Look for new sources of revenue including economic developement and ways to encourage growth in present businesses and in agriculture. Getting the county, Hi-Line towns, farms and ranches, industries, and the city of Havre all working together would be greatest goal. Together we cannot only survive but thrive.
Catt: It will be very difficult to make up the projected loss of revenue in a short time, but it’s not the end of the world. Over time and with a bit of hard work from all of us, we will manage to create new opportunities. The county commissioners’ board has no legislative power to raise taxes. As one of the three board members, I would work with the other two in finding new ideas and continue to work with our state representatives in getting some of our licensing fees, court fees, etc. back. It has been a real hardship on all of our counties since the state has taken a larger portion of the fees we work for. I would let all the communities in Hill County know we will be a good partner and are open to new economic growth ventures. I look at all the communities in Hill County as resources. Part of my platform is “Connecting Resources to Needs.” Resources aren’t just dollars but ideas and knowledge. We need to reconnect as a county, use our resources and our needs will eventually be met.
What, if anything, should the county specifically do regarding the push to upgrade the Port of Wild Horse to 24-hour status?
LaVoi: The original push for 24-hour status came from then Mayor Bob Rice and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, seeking no or little input from county people. I agree that 24-hour status would be of help, especially when you consider how far apart the existing 24-hour ports are. It's interesting that the Wild Horse road, which is a state secondary road, is the No. 1 priority to be redone, which is badly needed. As commissioner, I would lend whatever support I could to see 24-hour status awarded. The trial under way should help to establish need. But again the city of Havre and Hill County government should be working together on such projects.
Catt: The county needs to support this 24-hour port 100 percent.
There are all kinds of studies and all the numbers indicate the more hours the ports are open the more traffic the ports have. Increasing traffic south at Wild Horse spurs the economy and growth in Hill County. The extended summer hours in the last study increased the flow of traffic by 7 percent. Those extended hours were not published for the transportation companies, no highway signage was erected, and in reality that study wasn’t ran properly. Trucking companies keep telling us they will not take the risk of running into a closed port and having to backtrack. We need to keep the lines of communication open with our state and federal representatives. We need to keep working with the Alberta and Saskatchewan representatives. Right now we are doing exactly as United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolatino has asked. We are presently putting a regional plan together, and it is showing some progress on both sides of the border. There has been one meeting in Havre already with our neighbors to the north. Another meeting is scheduled for Nov. 16 in Medicine Hat. A good contingent from Alberta and Saskatchewan were at the first meeting along with our neighbors from Blaine County.
What specific actions should the county take, if any, to increase economic development?
LaVoi: This is always a favorite topic. I believe we should always be alert to opportunities to attract new industry or business. The new industrial park is a start. Ensuring that our infrastucture is in place and that we create an atmosphere that would entice location into our community, are of utmost importance. In addition, and perhaps of greater importance, is that we encourage growth in our present industries and businesses and recognize agriculture for the role it plays. Our college needs our support to ensure its future as well as our airport. Things like the transit system also play a part in not only providing a service but increasing business as well. We need to realize that we are all on the same team and that greater teamwork is needed.
Catt: The county needs to support the growth and development of new eco-friendly businesses. We need to support Montan State University-Northern in their biofuel programs as much as possible. I would look into using locally produced fuels in county equipment. MSU-N is the cutting edge in this field and is a huge resource to the county. They are nationally recognized as the go-to place in these fields and have some of the best scientists. These programs will bring great opportunities to agriculture and create good jobs. Basically the county needs to be a good partner to promote needed economic growth.
What do you think would be the best action for the county to take regarding the Clack Memorial Museum, including your preferred site if is relocated?
LaVoi: The Clack Foundation has always been in charge of this area and will most likely make future decisions as well. I feel the county should provide any help they can in securing a new site. I have heard of the options available but have no preferred site in mind.
Catt: If we are serious about economic growth, we need to be a good partner, take advantage of every opportunity and encourage the Clack Foundation. Building a new museum is one of those opportunities. It would attract people and that in the end spur the economy. The county may be able to fund some costs by helping find grant money.
At this time the museum board is looking for a location to build a permanent home for itself. With the help from Community Development Block Grant funds, the county and the museum board were able to split the cost for a site search. My understanding is they have identified three site. Once a site has been chosen by the museum board the county commissioners’ board will need to act.
What is your position on county-wide zoning?
LaVoi: The need to consider county zoning was proposed because of a number of disagreements between neighbors in the county. Most of these were in close proximity to Havre.
While the commissioners were asked to settle the differences, they had no authority to do so. Zoning would establish this authority. My first reaction is to resist any restrictions imposed by government on individual citizens. If zoning takes place and the people in authority to enforce are level-headed and fair-minded, it could be all right. I fear that as time goes by and these level-headed, fair-minded people are replaced by people not so like-minded, a dangerous can of worms would be opened. At best I would proceed with extreme caution on zoning.
Catt: I have been on the City/County Planning Board for 25-plus years and one of our most important duties is to look into the future when considering development. Often county-wide zoning would have been a good guideline for us to use. As a board the commissioners would have to consider the positive and negative affects of zoning by listening to all county residents. I am in favor of county-wide zoning if it is well thought out and all the people affected take part in the process.