By Ross Markman
The Havre City Council Monday night decided to give the Havre business community a chance to determine its own fate and that of parking in the city's main shopping area.
Two weeks ago, Havre Mayor Bob Rice called for something to be done about the parking crunch in the business district, which, according to city ordinance, is bounded by First Street on the north, Fourth Street on the south, First Avenue on the west and Fifth Avenue on the east.
Rice said he receives several phone calls a week from area shopkeepers claiming that people are exceeding the two-hour parking limit the ordinance established.
None of those business owners showed up Monday night, Rice noted.
"The three people that hollered the most, the three people who called me the most are not even here," he said.
Murray Barkus, owner of Barkus Home Center on Second Street, said two weeks ago that vehicles are routinely parked outside his store for several hours, sometimes days at a time. The problem, he said, is a combination of employees of other businesses, movie theater patrons and Second Street apartment renters all parking in front of his and other stores.
Barkus said he's tried asking people to move their vehicles during the day, but has been unsuccessful.
Barkus did not attend Monday night's meeting.
In fact, only two store owners were in attendance Larry DeRosa of Northern Electronics and Janine Donoven of JM Donoven Design in Fine Jewelry.
"We're not after the people who are downtown shopping," said DeRosa, whose business is on First Street. "We need to do something about the guy who parks there all day long."
Writing tickets, he said, is not the answer.
"This is not necessarily an issue that needs to be policed. I don't think that's what we're after," DeRosa said.
"I don't want to have to sign my name on the dotted line of a ticket. That person will never shop at my store again," she said. "I think the business community really needs to take it upon themselves to talk to their employees."
Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, proposed mailing a survey to stores in the business district. The survey would ask owners what they suggest should be done to quell the parking problem.
"It's an option. It's up at the discretion of the business community," Vandeberg said today of the survey.
"We've gotten lazy. We've allowed our employees to get lazy," she added. "I think an educational process needs to be done. If there's an ordinance, you either need to sign and enforce it or get rid of it."
Havre is no stranger to two-hour parking signs. About eight years ago, the signs were removed under an agreement between the city and the Chamber, city public works director Dave Peterson said.
The ordinance, however, remained on the books.
"We do have an ordinance in effect. If we're going to enforce it, then the signs have to go back up," council president Rick Pierson said. "Our hands aren't tied. We can enforce this ordinance."
Rice said he did an informal survey of businesses Monday and found that 75 percent don't want the city to put the signs back up, and half don't think parking is a problem.
Enforcing a two-hour limit is a challenge, Havre Assistant Police Chief Mark Stolen said.
"To enforce it, not only do you need the signs up, you need some way to prove that a vehicle was there that long," Stolen said.
That could mean marking tires with chalk, something council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick said is impractical.
"How will they know who is shopping and who has just been parked there?" he said. "Do you want to reward somebody who actually stopped for two hours to shop downtown with a ticket?"