There is only one race on the November ballot in Hill County this year. Derek Eldridge will face incumbent Erik Meis for the Ward 4 seat on Havre City Council.
Ward 4 includes the area east of Fifth Avenue and along First Street for the entire length of the city.
This story is based on an interview with Eldridge. Read a profile on Meis here.
City Council races are conducted on a nonpartisan basis. The election will be entirely by mail-in ballots.
Derek Eldridge said he wants to be part of the solution in his adopted city of Havre.
Rather than just sit back and complain, he wants to help solve some of the city’s problems.
He works at his family’s business, Fiveheads, pretty much working the clothing part of the operation while his father operates the Press, the coffee shop that he bought and moved from Holiday Village Mall to downtown. The family recently bought the old Arctic Circle building, renovated it and moved the coffee shop there.
Eldridge also operates a locksmith business.
He grew up in Great Falls and moved from Helena to Havre more than eight years ago. He’s active in Montana Actors Theatre, Hill County Search and Rescue and Montana Search and Rescue. But he wanted to extend his community involvement.
On council, he would like to be “the voice of the little people.”
Eldridge realizes that sounds like a cliche, but the ward he lives in and hopes to represent is the most distressed in the city, he said. He would like to see what he can do to help his neighbors.
On council, he would like to come up with ways to encourage people to improve their properties. In his eight and a half years in Havre, he has seen some properties sit untended and deteriorate.
Eldridge supports the idea behind the Vacant Properties Ordinance, which is under consideration by some council members, but he’s not sure it is the best way to handle the problem.
Many people who own vacant buildings, he said, use them as tax write-offs. The $500 assessment proposed for vacant building owners would not mean anything to these people, he said. They would willingly pay it.
Rather, Eldridge would like to see the city figure out ways to provide tax incentives to people who fix up their property. The tax rebates would be small, he said, but would be a way for the city to show appreciation for the effort to improve neighborhoods.
Eldridge also would like to work on a solution to the decaying streets in Havre.
He’s leaning toward a plan to encourage property owners to form districts and assess properties to fix the streets in their neighborhoods.
He admits, though, that this proposal might make it harder to get streets replaced in his Ward 4, where there are many rental properties. Landlords may be reluctant to pay the higher assessments to get the streets repaired, he fears.
He talked about one proposal, but wasn’t ready to endorse it, that calls for the city to rip up the concrete on streets and replace it with gravel streets.
If taxpayers want to save money, that would be the least expensive method, he said. But he said the plan would probably generate a lot of opposition.
He favors the idea of a dog park, but again the devil is in the details.
Under the present proposal, the city is retaining title to the property on the southern end of Fifth Avenue, and members of the Havre Dog Club maintain the park.
Eldridge is uncertain, though, what would happen if there is a dog attack on a human or another dog. The city would still be liable, he said.
He was also worried about what happens if the dog club disbands.
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