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City Council ends grant funding for telemarketer

Jerome Tharaud

Havre Daily News

[email protected]

Jerome Tharaud

Havre Daily News

[email protected]

The Havre City Council voted 7-0 Monday night to end a contract that provided state economic development money to the Havre call center of an inbound telemarketing firm.

Under the contract approved in 2000, Advantage Line - a subsidiary of Call_Solutions - was reimbursed for hours spent training employees once they'd undergone 624 hours of training and reached a wage of $7.15 an hour, said Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp.

The money was provided by a grant from the federal Community Development Block Grant program, which is administered by the Montana Department of Commerce.

Tuss told the council that Call_Solutions has received only a fraction of the money in its grant - $72,500 of $500,000 - since it was approved in 2000. Since then the money has only reimbursed the company for training 29 employees, he said. When the idea was proposed, it was expected it would help more than 100, he said.

The last time any of the money was drawn was last summer, he added.

"We have nothing in our files or paperwork that would lead us to believe that there are more coming," he said.

Tuss said the state asked that the city end the contract so the money could be available for other economic development purposes.

"There are obviously other economic development needs in other parts of Montana that could use this money," he said.

Mark Hardy, vice president of Call_Solutions, could not be reached for comment.

Tuss said that as far as he knows, Call_Solutions was not aware that the matter was going before the council.

City Council president Rick Pierson said after the meeting that he originally voted to OK the contract in 2000, but that he voted against the most recent withdrawal of funds last summer.

The city was obligated to pay the money under the contract, but it was a symbolic vote, he said.

"I didn't believe they were getting done what they said they would accomplish," Pierson said.

Mayor Bob Rice said he had encouraged Hardy to get more Call_Solutions employees involved in the program a year ago. "He should be expecting this," Rice said.

The availability of CDBG funding was a requisite before Advantage Line would agree to set up a telemarketing center in Havre. The state originally proposed to reimburse the company only for employees who worked 1,600 hours a year and also received benefits. Once that requirement was removed in September of 2000 so that the reimbursement would cover all full-time-equivalent positions, Hardy announced the new center would be coming to Havre later that year.


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