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Council panel favors scaled-back streets program

 


A Havre City Council committee has proposed that voters be asked to pay $15 million over 20 years to improve city streets.

That is one-half the amount that was rejected by voters in November 2015.

But under the proposal adopted by the Streets and Sidewalks Committee Tuesday night, the plan would not be on the ballot until 2017. That would avoid overloading voters with referendums this fall when the Havre Government Study Commission is planning to submit a proposal to overhaul city government by adopting a city manager form of government.

Council member Andrew Brekke, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he would have favored a $10 million figure, but would agree to $15 million if the public vote would be put off a year.

Brekke said he feared that voters would be reluctant to vote for both the city manager and the streets project.

“Conventional wisdom is that if both are on the ballot, both will lose,” he said.

He said that at a public hearing held Monday night, people feared that creation of a city manager position would result in higher taxes.

“People in this room know we cannot raise taxes to pay for a city manager,” he said. “But there is a fear that is what will happen.”

Brekke has said that he is a strong supporter of the city manager plan and said that under state law the proposal cannot be submitted to voters again for another 10 years. He said he wanted to approve the manager this fall and take on the streets issue next year.

City Council member Terry Lilletvedt made the motion for the $15 million plan, saying she would rather submit the $30 million proposal and have it voted on again this year.

She said the streets are in such bad shape that a lot of money needs to be spent promptly.

Even if her proposal is voted on in 2017, she said, work wouldn’t begin until 2019.

Mayor Tim Solomon said a lot of people will be asking why the program was cut back so severely. He said he feared that the $15 million will only be enough to handle emergencies and that the city will not be moving forward on much-needed infrastructure repairs.

Brekke shared those concerns, saying that under Lilletvedt’s proposal, neighborhoods that agree to create a special improvement district and impose a levy on themselves to fund a portion of the road repairs will get first dibs on the money that comes in from the mill levy.

But, he said, the pot will be depleted “if Dave Peterson (the city’s public works director) comes and says we have a street that is an emergency and has to be repaired.”

“That’s what’s going to happen,” the mayor said.

Solomon said that reducing the amount of money and delaying the vote would only create greater problems.

Lilletvedt said delaying the vote a year would give council members the opportunity to conduct a public information campaign. She called on them to do just that.

The proposal will now go to City Council.

Everyone at the meeting said they hoped that state and federal governments would provide assistance to municipalities looking to repair deteriorating infrastructure.

Republican and Democratic leaders say that will be a top priority when the Montana Legislature convenes in January.

 

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