Hill County is one step closer to having land shovel-ready for businesses to move in. The county had added 160 acres — including 40 county-owned acres intended to be an industrial park southwest of Havre — to the city-county planning district. The county intends to create a tax increment finance district.
Commissioners Mike Wendland and Kathy Bessette approved the change, made at the request of landowners Vicke Schend and David Vandergriend. The change includes allowing adding the property to Rural Fire District One, the rural fire zone around Havre for which the county contracts with the Havre Fire Department to provide coverage.
“It just opens that up for future development. … It’s already done, this is already zoned, ” Wendland said after the vote.
Commissioner Jeff LaVoi could not attend the hearing on the resolution, as he had to take the duty of judging the hallway Christmas decorations at District 4 Human Resources Development office.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., which is administering the industrial park project for the county, said the details of creating the Agro-Energy Industrial Park all are being worked out.
“Slowly but surely, all of these pieces are starting to fit together, ” he said.
The land owned by Schend had to be added to the city-county planning district in order to allow the addition of the rest of the property. Schend’s property, which is north of the industrial park, touches the existing district. Property added must be contiguous.
The creation of the industrial park is an attempt to attract business to the area, with the focus on alternative energy and value-added agriculture.
VanderGriend donated the 40 acres in the northeastern quarter section of land covered in Monday’s vote to the county in 2008. VanderGriend donated the land to be used as the Agro-Energy Industrial Park now being developed on the land.
In the 2009 Legislature, then-Sen. Ken “Kim” Hansen, D-Harlem, and then-Rep. Shannon Augare, D-Browning, now a state senator, led the charge in finding $300,000 of the state’s stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriated to the county to develop the industrial park.
Tuss said much of the work developing the park is complete, and more is nearing completion.
That includes drilling two water wells, constructing a road to the site, the county purchasing a new rural fire truck for the Havre Fire Department to help its coverage of Rural Fire One, Hill County Electric is closing in on connecting electrical power to the site, and Bear Paw negotiating with NorthWestern Energy to have the company connect natural gas as well.
“So we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to find a solution to get natural gas to the site, and it’s affordable and within the budget, ” Tuss said. “If we can do that, I would consider that property really shovel-ready to accept business. ”
He said the county has $93,000 left from its $300,000 2009 appropriation to use for connecting natural gas to the park.
Tuss said that it is unlikely, with winter weather hitting, that the final connections could be done in the next few weeks or months, but he said he is hopeful everything can be in place by next spring.
Tuss said one of his hopes is the park could be a site for one of Montana State University-Northern’s Bio-Energy Center’s industrial partners to open a facility.
Northern has done cutting-edge research into the creation of alternative fuels focusing on camelina, a crop well-suited to north-central Montana. The initial focus was on the creation of biodiesel, and a recent development is a patented process to create jet fuel using the oilseed.
Tuss said, however, that the park would be open to any business interested in opening an operation there.
He said another key to development will be creating the tax increment finance district.
Such a district helps pay for infrastructure and other improvements by creating an account specifically to pay for such improvements.
In a tax increment finance district, as the taxable value of property increases — such as due to the construction of a new facility or improvements to an existing facility — the taxes on the increased value go into an account for use on improvements. The duration of that process is 15 years, set by state law.
After the 15 years, the taxes go to the local governments — city, county and school districts, as applicable — as they normally would with increased taxable value.