By Tim Leeds
Having weathered the storm last summer and fall, the Havre Heritage Center has received some help to make it to the shore.
Elaine Morse, vice president of the center's foundation board, said today that a group, which wants to remain anonymous, has pledged to match donations to the center's endowment until that fund reaches $250,000.
"We're still working on things. We do have a golden opportunity, however," she said.
Morse said the endowment needs to grow about $80,000 before the center can start drawing off of the interest on it. The matching pledge drops the amount the foundation needs to raise to $40,000.
The Heritage Center has been in serious financial difficulties over the last six months.
The center foundation said last summer that unless it could raise $15,000 to make its last payment to the city of Havre to finish buying the old post office from the U.S. Postal Service, it would lose the building. The community responded, including a $15,000 donation from a community member who wished to remain anonymous.
But operating expenses, averaging $5,000 a month last year, still remain.
"We are always struggling on a month-to-month basis," board member Ardelle Hurlburt said.
A dinner sponsored by the Hill County Democratic Party, the Havre Jaycees and the Havre Eagles Club Saturday night will help to raise money for the expenses and endowment. Tom Farnham, supervisor of the Eagles Club, said the fund-raiser was an unintended result of a plea for help to the Havre City Council.
Farnham, who sits on the council, said members of the center foundation came to the board at a time when the city couldn't offer financial support because its budget was already set for the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"Their board was exhausted," he said. "They've done every fund-raiser possible to raise money."
He decided to talk to some organizations he has worked with before and set up a fund- raiser.
Morse said the board greatly appreciated Farnham setting up the dinner.
"We jumped at the opportunity for somebody to raise money for us," she said.
Hurlburt said she thinks it's appropriate for the center foundation to work with different groups in the area.
"I think the Heritage Center is a community project and they all should be concerned at making a go at it," she said.
Morse said that once the interest becomes available from the endowment, the center will still need help paying its expenses.
"We're doing some things as far as trying to figure out energy savings, cutting costs and corners," she added.
The center was going to ask the City Council to forgive the $1,000 lease payment it thought it owed the city. Once city and foundation officials looked into it, they realized the lease had expired and there was nothing to forgive. Morse said the foundation is negotiating with the city to write a new lease. Now that the foundation members know more about the costs and operations of the center, she said, they are hopeful a lease that better serves the center's needs can be written.
One area the foundation still wants to work on is city services, foundation board member Gary Wilson said. Acknowledging that Havre really doesn't have money to budget for paying Heritage Center bills, Wilson said he would like so see the city lighten some of the center's load.
For example, he said, if the city would cover the building under its liability insurance. that could save the foundation $400 a month. The foundation would cover the contents of the building with its insurance.
Other steps to help reduce the center's bills are in the works, he said. The new windows installed using a Community Transportation Enhancement Program grant Havre received are helping make the building more energy efficient, and the $500-a-month bill for the building's alarm system should be dropping a bit soon.
Wilson said if the community will continue to support the center, he feels its financial situation will continue to improve.
"Are we wealthy?" he asked. "No, but we're doing better."
Wilson said the foundation is renting a few more spaces out to businesses in the center, which it uses to house its offices and hold events as well as housing the Clack Memorial Museum. There are a few more people renting the old postal boxes in the museum, and a few more memberships coming in as well.
"It comes in slowly but it's coming in," Wilson said. "We feel like we're succeeding in our mission and stabilizing (the finances of) the building. The patient has survived the operation. The patient is very weak but the prognosis is health."
The fund-raiser at the Eagles Club begins at 6:30 p.m., costing $8 a plate. The dinner, chicken cordon bleu with salad and dessert, is followed by live music by the Senior Citizen Band.