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Center advocates appeal to council

 


On Monday night two advocates of the Heritage Center put pressure on the Havre City Council to commit money to help keep the historic building open, but received no final answer. The message from the council was that ultimately the decision would be up to the people of Havre.

Clack Foundation vice president Elaine Morse and former foundation president Don Mahlum spoke to the council during the open section of the council meeting on Monday, and their comments turned into a half-hour-long dialogue with the council members.

This came a week after the H. Earl Clack Museum board authorized the elimination of a part-time summer museum position on the Hill County payroll and reduced the hours of the museum manager to help pay rent on the building. The part-time summer position had not yet been filled.

The County Commission has not yet given permission for the budget transfer because it has not yet received the request, county commissioner Kathy Bessette said today.

The discussion was often strained on Monday night, although Morse and Mahlum said they were not giving an ultimatum.

"The county has made an effort," Morse said. "They have found some money where there is no money. What we're asking from the city is $7,200 a year, and that's what we need." Morse said that at some point the money may no longer be necessary, but also told the council that museums are never self-sustaining. She said the Clack Foundation has spent thousands of dollars preserving the building for the city, but that it does not have the financial ability to run the building alone.

"We are trying, and if we want to save that building, it's got to be a joint effort between all of us." Morse said. "And the bottom line is that if the city can't help, or make a good faith effort to help, then the Foundation is going to have to revert to our original purpose ... to fund and operate the Clack Museum.

"Right now, all of our resources are going to the building. So we will have to decide that the building is sucking us dry, we'll have to find a new home - we've already looked into other options - and we will have to move. And then it's not a little problem for the city: It's a huge problem because instead of having a little bit of help, all of a sudden you have a big building that you can't sell."

The center has been operating with a $1,000 monthly deficit. It houses a county-run museum and a number of business and other offices.

City Council President Rick Pierson emphasized that the decision to help the Center was not up to the eight members of the council, but their constituents, and that when the building was purchased by the city, taxpayers were promised that no taxpayer dollars would go into the building.

"This is the first time we've ever been asked to use taxpayer dollars to help with the upkeep of a particular building," Pierson said. "We have to take input from constituents." He said he hoped the public would decide to save the building.

Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he has recently received two phone calls and 11 e-mails from Havre citizens opposed to using city funds for the Heritage Center.

"That is a lot of people when you consider all of the things we deal with," Rice said.

Pierson suggested that Morse have a survey taken to gauge public support for the center.

Morse said the cost of such a survey may be prohibitive.

Mahlum asked about the possibility of a budget transfer to help the center. He told the council that the foundation has put more than $200,000 into the building.

Finance Committee chair Tom Farnham told Mahlum that although the council feels the center is an asset to the community, the city is facing the same budget as it had in 1999.

"At this point our hands are basically tied," Farnham said.

The city's budget will be completed in August. Farnham had said it may not be clear if any money is available to help the Heritage Center until then.

City Council member and museum manager Emily Mayer said after the meeting that she has not received feedback from her constituents about the building, but that she hoped the community would not lose the opportunity the Heritage Center provides.

"If the Havre citizens decided they did not want a Heritage Center, it would be a sad day in Havre history," Mayer said. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard people coming through that museum saying how lucky we are."

The city has owned the building since 1996, when it was purchased from the U.S. Postal Service for $150,000. The Clack Foundation paid for much of the match required to release the CTEP funds used to purchase the building.

CTEP is the Community Enhancement Transportation Program, which is administered by the Montana Department of Transportation. Under the program, federal highway dollars are made available for various local improvement projects. Every project using CTEP dollars requires a 13.42 percent local match before the money can be used.

In 1996 the Clack Foundation became responsible for the lease of the Heritage Center. The foundation's five-year lease ran out in August 2001, but under its current "tenancy-at-will" agreement with the city, the foundation can continue to use the building until the city asks it to leave. The Clack Foundation has continued to pay to keep the building running.

Also discussed at the City Council meeting Monday night:

The Finance Committee approved several budget transfers, including $4,362 for the Fire Department from salaries and wages into overtime pay. Committee chair Tom Farnham said this was because of the cost of using Havre ambulances to transfer patients to Great Falls.

The council unanimously approved a contract between the City of Havre and Wells Fargo Capital Management that would eventually transfer some of the city's assets from various CDs to accounts managed by Wells Fargo, which would bring higher interest rates. The interest would go back into the general fund, Farnham said.

The city will not decide whether to sign the contract until after the budgeting process, he said.

The Labor Relations Com-mittee will meet today at 7 p.m. with Local 336 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as contract negotiations continue. The meeting will be held at City Hall.

Havre Mayor Bob Rice issued a proclamation in support of the National Buckle Up America! Week, a campaign to educate drivers and promote seat belt use that began Monday.

Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition representative Wanda Allison gave framed certificates thanking local businesses for donating coupons for the coalition's recent seat belt promotion program. The businesses recognized were Rod's Drive Inn, Pizza Hut and Taco John's.

 

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