By T.J. Pyette
Havre Mayor Bob Rice kicked off his second community breakfast on Wednesday morning by announcing that the city is helping local merchants fix problem sidewalks.
The city of Havre has purchased a cement grinder and is helping local merchants even out unlevel sidewalk surfaces by providing city public works employees to help with the labor.
"Our goal is to provide people in the city with safe walking spaces," said the director of public works, Dave Peterson.
Peterson said the grinder can level out uneven surface areas by grinding them down and smoothing out rough patches.
"If a sidewalk is crumbling or falling apart, that's something the grinder can't help with," Peterson added.
Business owners are expected to be an active part of the process.
"You can't just call us up and turn a project over to us. It's a partnership," Rice said. Owners are expected to buy materials, pay for the cost of equipment needed other than the grinder, and participate in the labor process, he added.
Rice said the project got started when he helped Dairy Queen with a sidewalk project by donating some of the labor required for the replacement effort.
Rice then turned his attention to the Koefod Agency. He said Koefod Agency owners Vincent Velk and Tom Healy had sprayed areas of their sidewalk with orange paint to draw attention to tripping hazards. The spray painting didn't sit well with Rice.
"I want the downtown area to look spiffy," said Rice.
Healy said today that the cost to replace the sidewalks would have been about $40,000, and they couldn't afford to have the job done at this point.
Many local merchants, like Healy and Velk, were struggling to repair sidewalks, but couldn't afford the expense, Rice said. In response, the city launched this effort to help businesses fix their sidewalks.
So far the city has used the grinder to help Koefod Agency and Bing N Bob's with sidewalk repairs.
"It certainly was a great help to us," Healy said. "We think it's great that the city is willing to get involved and assist people in this manner. We may still have to replace our sidewalk at some point, but it is safe now."
For business owners and others who need help with sidewalk repairs that are beyond the scope of the city grinder, Rice is looking at putting together a special improvement district.
Rice said with interest rates on SIDs as low as 3 percent right now, it would be a good time to take advantage, but "people are going to have to come to us," he said. "We're not going to go out looking for people to participate."
Peterson added that it would take a lot of people to launch an SID because the cost involved in creating one is quite large.
At this point, Peterson said, the city is unsure how much assistance it will donate to repair sidewalks under an SID, but the majority of the cost would most likely fall under the SID financing, due to the nature and scope of sidewalk replacement.
Peterson said the sidewalk project is in the beginning stages and that all requests will be handled by the city on a case-by-case basis.
Peterson added that since the public works department has many duties, it would depend on factors like the scope of the project and the time of year to determine when employees might be able to contribute labor.
"At some point a priority list will have to be established, and I would imagine our first priorities would be the worst sidewalks, or the sidewalks that have the most foot traffic," Peterson said. "The priority list could even trickle down into residential areas, I expect."
Rice said that although the property owners are legally responsible for maintaining their sidewalks, the city also has some liability.
"I have spoken with the city's insurance company, MMIA, and they are jubilant that we are doing this," Rice added.