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Study commission questions put on the ballot

The Havre City Council and the Hill County Commission each passed resolutions on Monday allowing voters to decide during the primary election in June whether they want to form and fund study commissions to review the effectiveness of local government.

The issues will appear on the ballot on June 8.

If voters approve the establishment of study commissions, they would then elect three people in November to serve on each commission.

According to state law, "the purpose of a study commission is to study the existing form and powers of a local government and procedures for delivery of local government services and compare them with other forms available under the laws of the state."

The commissions are required to hold meetings to gather public input, publish reports of their findings, and make recommendations based on those findings. The report and recommendations must be presented to voters within two years.

The funding measure on both the city and county ballots will ask voters whether they want to assess a tax not to exceed 1 mill for fiscal years 2005 and 2006 to fund a commission.

It is possible for voters to approve the formation of a study commission and reject the funding measure, Havre Mayor Bob Rice said during a special city council meeting Monday night. The commission would still perform a study, but without the assistance of tax dollars, he said.

He noted that a mill in Havre raises about $7,800.

"Seventy-eight hundred dollars for the study may be something the people don't want to do," he said.

He said today that the amount taxed for a commission could be less than a mill, and that the value of a mill could change.

Local governments are required by state law to place the issue on the ballot every 10 years, though study commissions can also be established at the prompting of local governing bodies or by a petition from local voters.

Some of the recommendations a commission could make include changing the form of local government, incorporating an area as a city, or consolidating two or more existing entities. If the recommendations included significant changes to local government, they would appear on the ballot during the next general election, Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said.

Kaercher served on a county study commission that was established in 1994, as did fellow Commissioner Pat Conway.

Since the provision to establish study commissions first appeared on primary ballots in 1984, voters in Havre and Hill County have twice voted to form commissions.

Some of the recommendations made by the city study commission in Havre in 1994 appeared on the ballot, City Clerk Lowell Swenson said. The initiatives included measures that would have established a city charter, required city employees to live within the city limits, and make the election system nonpartisan. The charter included a proposal that would have created the position of city manager to oversee the day-to-day operations of the city, Swenson said.

Voters rejected the charter proposal, and though they approved several of the separate ballot measures, the measures were tied to the charter and could not be enacted, Swenson said.

The city of Havre uses the commission-executive form of city government, which consists of an elected council and an executive - the mayor - who is elected at large. Under the commission-manager form, many of the duties performed by the mayor are assigned to a city manager.


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