By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre City Council has agreed to support a grass-roots poverty reduction project that could mean millions of dollars for north-central Montana in the next 10 years.
The project is one of several in an eight-state region served by the Northwest Area Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in St. Paul, Minn.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., told the council that Hill County and 10 other rural Montana counties were selected by the foundation to use a $600,000 planning grant to develop a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for north-central Montana.
The 11-county region includes Blaine, Cascade, Chouteau, Glacier, Hill, Judith Basin, Liberty, Phillips, Pondera, Teton, and Toole counties, as well as the Blackfeet, Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap Indian reservations. It was selected based on census information, according to the foundation's Web site.
The foundation was started in 1934 by Louis W. Hill, the son of railroad magnate James J. Hill.
Tuss said the original region selected by the foundation about a year and a half ago consisted of 10 counties. Bear Paw Development came back to the foundation with a proposal that Phillips County be included, and the foundation agreed to the inclusion.
Bear Paw Development is the financial agent for the plan, and has been working on it for the last year, Tuss said.
A group of seven strategy teams of 10 to 20 people each drawn from around the 11-county area began developing the plan in December, Tuss said. Together the teams, which address specific issues like housing, transportation, health care, and economic development, make up the Northcentral Community Ventures Coalition.
Tuss said a separate financial subcommittee has been formed to estimate the cost of the teams' proposals.
Strategic Learning Resources, a Washington state consulting firm, has been hired by Bear Paw Development to put together the proposal to send to the foundation.
The plan is due this summer.
The counties will be competing with communities in Iowa, Idaho and North Dakota, Tuss said. Of those four, one or two will be selected by the foundation in the early fall to benefit from a "long-term funding relationship" that he said would mean $12 million to $16 million over 10 years.
The poverty-reduction plan could require as much as $75 million, Tuss said, and Bear Paw Development is looking for other means of funding to supplement the foundation's grant.
The foundation wants to "prime the financial pump with the money they're going to put into the project, but they fully expect us to be creative in coming up with innovative ways to leverage their money," Tuss said this morning.
Tuss told the council the effort would not require any city money. "This is truly a grass-roots effort," he said. "We're coming up with ideas that are outside the box in terms of poverty- reduction goals."
He said a wide range of groups have helped develop the plan, including public officials, business people and the nonprofitprofit sector, as well as poverty-stricken individuals.
The council authorized the mayor to write a letter to the foundation indicating the council's support for the program. Bear Paw Development is seeking endorsements from all of the local governments within the 11-county area.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said, "We feel it's a win-win situation for Havre."
"We just appreciate your support," Tuss said. "This is a great project, and we'll just keep our fingers crossed."