After watching voters twice defeat bonds to repair Havre’s streets, some local officials are ready to consider other financing options.
One such option is the creation of special improvement districts where property owners agree to assess a levy to pay for street repairs in their neighborhoods.
Operation of SIDs can be complex, and city officials say they are not sure of some details. So they have invited Dan Clark, director of the Local Government Center at Montana State University, to conduct a session on SIDs. It will be Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Havre City Hall.
Members of the Streets and Sidewalks Committee, which is sponsoring the session, hope the public will attend the meeting to learn details of the program and ask questions.
Clark is an expert on all aspects of municipal law in Montana and the center has been used as a resource for Havre and most other municipalities.
People will be able to learn about special improvement districts and decide if such a taxing mechanism would be a good option for their neighborhood.
“This will be another opinion,” said City Council member Terry Lilletvedt, Ward 1, who said she has questions to ask Clark and needs to be convinced SIDs are the way to go.
Some supporters on council say every street in the city was constructed under the SID system and so far it has worked out well.
To the contrary, some residents in neighborhoods where rental properties predominate fear that landlords will never agree to additional assessments and therefore their streets will never be repaired.
Lilletvedt and the late Pam Hillery were key supporters of the street repair bond proposal that was twice defeated by voters.
“I still believe that we all drive on the streets, so we should all pay for them,” she said, but voters have made it clear they don’t want to pay for an all-city street repair program.
She said she understands some of the opposition. The city prepared a list of the streets most in need of repair. Many voters were reluctant to approve the project knowing that their streets were unlikely to get fixed.
Many people say the city should have started repairing streets 30 years ago, before it became a crisis. Lilletvedt agrees, but no one at city hall now was in a position of responsibility back then.
Lilletvedt said she would like to see state and federal governments do more to repair aging infrastructure.
The 2019 Montana Legislature passed an infrastructure plan, but she would like to have seen something more robust to help municipalities.
The federal government considered a massive infrastructure program, but that proposal has become mired in politics.
A city gasoline tax might help, she said. If a 25 cent a gallon tax were adopted, both city residents and tourists who drive Highway 2 would help pay for the needed street repairs, though she said some motorists might drive to gas stations outside the city limits to purchase gas.
But the city cannot enact a local gasoline tax without the Legislature’s approval.
She said Bear Paw Development Corp. is on top of all grants programs, and is looking for anything to help the city with street repairs. So far, Bear Paw officials have come up dry.
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