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Council gives Heritage Center services, no cash

 


In the culmination of months of pleas for city help, Clack Foundation board members and other Heritage Center supporters came to City Hall Monday night to see what the Havre City Council could offer them to help make up a monthly operations deficit.

In the face of a tight budget, the council's offer was what Finance Committee chair Tom Farnham has been saying it might be for weeks: help with maintenance services, but no city money. The city also will continue to pay for insurance - about $2,000 a year - on the building.

The City Council's vote was 6-1. City Council member Emily Mayer was out of town.

The council also decided that the city will ask Bear Paw Development Corp. to help the Clack Foundation apply for grants for the Heritage Center.

After the meeting, foundation vice president Elaine Morse said the board will meet later this month and decide if it would continue to operate the city-owned building.

"We needed help and this is some help. Whether it's enough, I don't know," Morse said.

The city's contribution to the historic building will consist of snow removal, janitorial service totaling about 10 hours a week and occasional maintenance help in the building when Public Works Department employees do not have more pressing projects.

The City Council's Finance Committee met earlier Monday night and recommended that the council donate the in-kind services. The committee's vote was 2-1.

City Council president Rick Pierson was the lone dissenter both in the committee and in the council vote.

"I voted my integrity to what I said back in 1995 and that's that it would not cost the taxpayers any money," Pierson said after the meeting.

The resolution authorizing the purchase of the old post office building by the city in 1996 stipulated that the Clack Foundation would assume all operation costs. The Clack Foundation has leased the building from the city since the purchase.

Pierson said even in-kind help for the center would be using tax dollars.

"Any time they use city workers it's still using tax dollars," he said.

The Clack Foundation approached the Havre City Council several times this spring to ask for help operating the building, which runs a monthly shortfall of about $600 and has serious maintenance issues.

Foundation board members threatened to turn operation of the building over to the city if the city didn't help it cover costs. The building contains the county's H. Earl Clack Museum and art gallery plus private office space.

Heritage Center supporters briefly addressed the Finance Committee before its vote.

Former Clack Foundation president Don Mahlum questioned the committee's insistence that there was no money to offer, pointing out that on July 15 the committee found the money to cover an expected $195,000 deficit and came up with another $75,000 during the two-hour budget meeting.

"You sure if you hadn't taken another five minutes you couldn't have come up with another $7,000 or $8,000? That's very hard to believe," Mahlum said.

Farnham said the money the committee came up with has to be used for items like insurance and wage increases.

After the vote, Morse read a short statement to the City Council.

"The purpose of the Clack Foundation has been and always will be the support of the H. Earl Clack Museum, and we will continue to support the museum with our time, effort and funds," Morse read. "The board of the Clack Foundation, and the board of the Hill County Clack Museum will have to decide if the proposal by the city for assistance merits our continued residence and support of the Heritage Center building."

During the Finance Committee meeting, Morse also mentioned the possibility that the foundation would walk away from the building. Farnham told Morse that City Attorney Jim Kaze has asked the city to complete another lease agreement with the foundation. 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.

"A lease will only be done if my board agrees we want to continue in this situation," Morse told Farnham.

Ardelle Hurlburt, Clack Foundation board member and membership chair, said the foundation will try to raise enough money through memberships, by selling space in the antique post office boxes in the center, and with other fund-raising efforts. But she said those methods have never raised enough to operate the building.

Additional money has been given by anonymous donors, Hurlburt said, but some donors who have helped in the past will not continue to give the same level of support next year.

"If we lose the sources we have had in the past few years, we may not be able to make it," Hurlburt said. "... All we can do is give it a try."

After the meeting Farnham said he was not surprised at the assistance the council approved.

"It'd be nice if we could offer more," he said.

 

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