By Ross Markman
Working together was the theme at Wednesday's State of Havre meeting hosted by the Havre Lions Club at the Hill County Electric Cooperative.
From Bob Rice to Debbie Vandeberg to Mike Zook, seven speakers addressed nearly 40 community members in attendance, each speaker updating the audience members on new programs and informing them how they can help.
"I'm the president of the Optimist Club," said Zook, director of the Farm Service Agency in Hill County. "We need to think of our opportunities rather than our restrictions."
Zook talked about the current drought on the Hi-Line and urged people not to give up hope.
"We're losing people over time. Farming has become a high-risk business. There's no margin for error," he said. "But there are ways we can hopefully optimize farming situations in Hill County."
Darren Boss, a research associate with the Northern Agricultural Research Center at Fort Assinniboine, agreed.
"It's not gloom and doom," Boss said.
The research center got 6 inches of rain last year, one of the highest amounts in Montana, a figure Boss said should encourage Havre residents. The lowest amount of rainfall the research center has ever recorded is 2.6 inches in 1985. The problem is that the rain fell at the wrong times of the year to help farmers.
"The rainfall total we got last year didn't even classify us as one of the top 10 drought years," Boss said. "We have to try to keep positive even though we're in a major drought.
"The state of Havre is still very much dependent on agriculture," he added.
The state and future of Havre is also dependent on service clubs like the Lions, according to Tony Dolphay, president of the club.
"What we're looking for is how we can assist the rest of the community. A lot of times we're looking to see how we can help out the police and fire departments. And we're really looking for input from the mayor," Dolphay said.
Rice presented projects he's working on, including several focused on cleaning up Havre.
"We plan to renovate the Sixth Avenue ballpark this spring or summer. We're trying to make it presentable. It will happen trust me," he said.
Rice said he's putting up signs in town to further deter littering, a $500 fine in Havre. He's also in the process of installing four suggestion boxes at the library, courthouse, City Hall and the Atrium.
"I would like to know how you feel, what you're thinking," Rice said.
But if your suggestion is a negative remark about the mayor or one of his department heads, Rice said, the author must sign it. Otherwise, he won't entertain it.
"Some letters I've been getting are signed concerned citizens of Havre.' Some are attacking my department heads," Rice said. "I'm not going to validate these kind of letters."
Other future projects on the mayor's agenda include forming a fact-finding committee to investigate a possible skateboard park and establishing sidewalk maintenance guidelines, both of which Rice said service clubs can get involved in.
Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber also has plenty of volunteer opportunities.
"The chamber is doing a lot of positive things. Part of our mission is businesses working together to create a positive community," she said. "The service clubs play a vital role in the success of the Chamber."
Vandeberg suggested the Lions check with the Chamber before scheduling events to avoid conflicts.
"We have a lot things going on in the community. As you plan your events, please let us know," she said.
Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson said such teamwork and organizations like the Lions are key to the community's livelihood.
"Service clubs are a method by which we can communicate with the community," Olson said. "The police department is a small role. It's one spoke in the wheel. The service clubs are an additional spoke."
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera talked about ways his office can help the local economy. He said he's working on a day-release program that would allow people sentenced to serve multiple hours in jail to still be able to work during the day and serve their time at night.
"What are we gaining as a community when we take away someone's job?" Szudera said. "That doesn't help our economy."
Following the meeting, Dolphay said he was disappointed at the attendance, but said those who attended heard some good messages and ideas.
"It wasn't as successful as I wished it would be. I didn't get a lot as far as what they expected from our service clubs," he said. "But the underlying message I think I received is that teamwork is what's going to hold us together."