House panel endorses Havre's 'first-class' bill
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A bill introduced by Rep. John Musgrove may solve a Havre concern.
House Bill 132 would allow Havre to keep its status as a first-class city. The bill passed out of the House Local Government Committee on Wednesday.
Havre Democrat Musgrove said he expects the bill to be approved on second reading in the House today, and that it will probably be passed on third reading Friday and go on to the Senate.
"It looks to me like it's a noncontroversial bill that should pass without trouble," Musgrove said.
HB 132 would allow Montana communities with a U.S. Census population between 9,000 and 10,000 to choose whether they will have a first-class or second-class status. Under current statutes, Havre's population of 9,623 classifies it as a second-class city.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice, who testified before the committee, said the discussion of the bill was very nonpartisan.
"It was refreshing," he said.
Rice said being classified as a second-class city would give the city the option of having a volunteer, rather than a professional fire department. The city intends to continue to maintain a professional fire department whether it is first class or second class, he said.
Rice said people in Havre have told him that they are concerned that sometime in the future, the city government might switch to a volunteer fire department because of budget constraints.
"I've gotten more letters on this than on anything else," he said. "And there's a certain pride in being a first-class city."
Under Montana law, Musgrove said, smaller towns and cities already have a choice about which classification they fall under. His bill would extend a choice to cities of Havre's size.
Rice said the city had three choices before Musgrove's bill was proposed. It could have simply continued as a first-class city until the next city election, when the second-class city status would have taken effect. Or, the City Council could have adopted a resolution making Havre a second-class city now. That would have required the city to hold new elections, at a cost of about $7,000, Rice said.
Or, the city could have contested the census figured and conducted its own census.
Rice said Musgrove's bill would give the city a good option.