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Two Democrats vie in Havre city primary

 


In the only contested race in Tuesday's primary election for the Havre City Council, Democrats Gerry Veis and Pam Hillery have filed to run for a council seat in Ward One.

Hillery has lived in Havre since December 2000. She serves as treasurer of the Havre Elementary Parent Teacher Organization and is membership secretary for the Hi-Line Concert Association. Hillery coordinates vacation Bible school for three local churches and volunteers with the Cub Scouts and the Havre Youth Soccer Association.

Veis is the executive vice president at Bear Paw Credit Union and has lived in Havre since 1981. He serves on the board of the Havre Housing Program and the board of the Havre Day Activity Center. He served on the Havre school board for four years in the 1990s, on the board of United Way of Hill County for three years in the 1980s, and the Alumni Association board at Montana State University-Northern for several years.

Hillery and Veis point to economic development and financial solvency, respectively, as the most important issues facing the city over the next four years.

"Economic development on the Hi-Line is a huge issue, Hillery said, adding that Havre is not separate from the economic condition of the rest of the Hi-Line.

"What happens in all these small towns is part of what we are as a community," said Hillery.

Hillery, 42, said she thinks the next four years may prove to be critical for the area, Democratic activists had expected since Dean surged this summer to the head of the nine-candidate field. A day before the debate, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson spoke for the entire party when he predicted verbal ''fireworks.''

depending on factors like whether the drought continues. She also said she sees positive changes happening as businesses like Bi-Mart move into town.

She said a multipurpose center for sports and art events would be another positive change, and that tax-increment financing for the downtown area would also help spur economic growth.

Area business leaders are considering advocating a tax-increment finance district to help fund improvements downtown. As property values increased within the district because of the improvements, additional tax revenue that resulted would go into a special fund to finance more improvements.

Veis said he also thinks a tax- increment finance district would help the downtown.

Hillery added that people often talk about attracting new businesses to town with tax breaks, but that she believes existing businesses in Havre should also be eligible for that kind of help so they can expand.

Veis, citing a dwindling tax base and rising costs of city operations, emphasizes the importance of bringing new housing - and with it new taxpayers - to Havre.

"Once we have the financial thing in order ... I think we wouldn't have any problems whatsoever with the city," he said.

Veis, 42, said the council should listen to department heads more when it comes to budget requests.

"I think we have a tendency not to listen to them as much as we should," he said. "If you're going to have people in those positions, you should allow them to do their job."

That means focusing less on cutting department budgets, he said, and more on increasing the tax base. Veis said the city can do that by not hindering construction of subdivisions and homes, possibly even by giving builders breaks in taxes and fees. Veis said giving a builder a tax break for the first two years would secure more income for the city for the next 100.

He said he thinks there is a unfulfilled demand in Havre for quality rental units.

"Obviously we're going to have to allow more building, not hinder people from building," he said, but added that he would oppose allowing nice homes and multistory apartment buildings side by side in the same subdivision.

Veis said he thinks Havre should focus on drawing small businesses rather than large chain stores.

He also said he supports a multipurpose center in Havre.

"I think it's definitely something they should have had 20 years ago," he said.

Both Hillery and Veis said they don't have a specific agenda to pursue on behalf of their ward.

Hillery acknowledges that Ward One does not have a lot of problems.

"My ward's rather fortunate," Hillery said, adding that it has some of the city's nicest parks, and that she would like to see some of the old playground equipment replaced.

But some of the issues that will require more of the council's attention, she said, are outside of her ward, like the east end of town.

"That whole area needs a little more tender loving care," she said.

She also said the Heritage Center is one of the city's most pressing issues. The historic city-owned building, which houses the H. Earl Clack Museum, has been beset by persistent monthly budget shortfalls and serious maintenance issues.

"Clearly we've got to resolve the whole Heritage Center," Hillery said. She said she thinks the city has taken the steps that it can, but that there may be more the city can do in the future.

"I am willing to be taxed to support that asset," Hillery said, but added that some people aren't, and what is needed is more public meetings about the center. "I lean toward supporting the Heritage Center more than the city is doing," she said.

Veis said it is unrealistic to believe the city will be able to support the Heritage Center in the near future.

"I think it's a great old building and I think it would be great if we had the money (to support it) ... but because of the tight budgeting process, you're not going to find it in any budget the city is going to deliver."

Veis pointed out that supporters of the Havre Ice Dome raised the money to build the facility, and that now the arena has brought a lot of money into town through the events it hosts. He said he would like to see the Heritage Center be able to contribute more.

"I don't know of anything (the Heritage Center) is doing that is bringing in money to help the community," he said.

Like Hillery, Veis said he does not see any overwhelming issues that are exclusive to his ward.

Hillery is married to Bear Paw Development Corp. executive director Paul Tuss. Veis is married to Pam Veis, a psychiatric registered nurse at Golden Triangle Mental Health.

The four-year seat in Ward One is vacant because Doug Larson did not file for re-election. Russ Luke is the sole Republican running for the seat in Tuesday's election.

 

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