The troublesome annexation problem which started several years ago came to an end at Monday night’s Havre City Council meeting, after a few minutes of discussion and a unanimous vote.
The vote brought a legal settlement to the lawsuit filed by several landowners west of Havre in 2010 against the city to stop the annexation process.
The properties in question, if annexed, would have extended the city of Havre’s border from the bottom of the hill near the water plant and Ezzie’s Wholesale, where the limit is now, out over the hill near Walmart.
The settlement halts those proceedings and splits $14,000 from the city’s insurance company for legal costs and expenses among the parties in the lawsuit, freeing the city to begin again. The property owners promised in the settlement to not object when the city begins the annexation process again, if the city follows the necessary procedure.
The city now has to use the “provision of services” method of annexation, which allows a city to take in a property that already uses city services, like water and sewer lines.
Council member Gerry Veis questioned the $14,000 amount and explained that he would vote for the settlement, despite reservations. He objects to how insurance companies tend to keep cases out of the courts, that are supposed to make decisions, to try and save money.
Council member Allen “Woody” Woodwick, who has been a part of the now-ended annexation, said those savings would be good.
“I believe it would be cheaper for everyone if we just start over, ” Woodwick said. “It could have been two or three more years of legal costs. ”
Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, was the only person to speak against the settlement, explaining how the decision may save legal costs but would cost nearly $30,000 in tourism marketing and development dollars.
She explained how Havre launched a Convention and Visitor Bureau to encourage tourism in February 2010 that would be hamstrung by the settlement. A grant to fund the CVB requires that 22.5 percent of the proceeds of a bed-tax collected within city limits be more than $35,000 before the city gets additional money, according to Vandeberg.
“This will have a huge impact to encourage people to eat, see and do, ” Vandeberg said.
Though this settlement would cause the city to lose about $29,000, she said, which would have paid for programs planned for the next year that would “have to stop tonight. ”
Council Member Andrew Brekke said that wouldn’t be a problem for too long.
“There are issues... but I believe this is the right decision, and it gives us a way forward, ” Brekke said. “And when we do move forward, that money will come back.
“I think it could be within a year. ”
Council member Robert Kaftan said that it was good to end the controversy that has plagued the issue for the past few years and that the city has learned from it.
“It doesn’t mean someone else won’t take us to court, ” Veis said.