Havre Daily News
One member of the committee set up by Havre Mayor Bob Rice to study the possibility of creating a Havre-Hill County port authority said he views the proposed entity as an “umbrella” that would work to coordinate local economic development activities.
The head of Bear Paw Development Corp., a regional economic development agency, is asking how the authority will function, and the state Commerce Department director said he doesn't think the proposed entity is necessary.
Commerce director Tony Preite, himself a Havre native and the former head of Bear Paw Development, said Tuesday that the community couldn't get a better “umbrella” than the one it already has.
“You can't get a better umbrella than Bear Paw,” he said. “It offers more services than any other organization under one roof. There is no way a port authority in Havre can do what Bear Paw Development can do.
“In my opinion, and it's only my opinion, I don't think a port authority is necessary because between the city, county, Bear Paw Development Corp. and the chamber has done a great job,” he added. “I commend everyone who is trying to build up the Havre and Hill County area. I just don't think you need to create another organization when you already have Bear Paw Development and the Chamber of Commerce that already work so closely together.”
Insurance salesman Andrew Brekke, a member of the port authority committee, said Monday that the committee sees the entity as one that would coordinate efforts to pursue development strategies, jobs and revenues that the area would otherwise possibly lose.
Brekke said the authority would work with Havre and Hill County governments, Bear Paw Development and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
He said with the addition of the port authority, each entity could continue the specific job it already does and the port authority could help organize the efforts and pick up whatever was left over to ensure the success of them.
Bear Paw Development executive director Paul Tuss' question is: “How?”
Brekke's response on Tuesday was that the authority would encourage different entities to work together and make life easier for potential developers.
“It will be easier for the developer to go to one entity rather than three, four or five,” he said. “Each piece has to decide they want there to be one organization to handle the organization of a major project.”
Tuss said the committee needs to decide if the creation of a port authority will add something to the community.
“My general sense is that the decision to move forward on this initiative should really be based on bringing something new to the table in terms of economic services the city currently doesn't have,” he said. “I think everyone will agree it doesn't make any sense to duplicate services, but rather do things that will only complement what is already being done here.”
Tuss asked if the committee thinks something isn't being provided in Havre that the port authority could provide.
“Is there something missing or perceived to be missing from Bear Paw Development? If something is missing, can it be addressed ...? At this point I have yet to understand what a port authority can exclusively do that another type of economic development entity can't do except levying for mills, and that is something they'll have to put on a ballot.”
Tuss said the committee still hasn't answered the questions he's been asking from the beginning.
“I think the general question we all need to ask each other is, what function or purpose will a port authority have above and beyond the entities that already exist,” Tuss said Monday. “In the small amount of research I've done, the one thing a port authority can do is bond for projects. They have bonding authority and Bear Paw Development Corp. does not.”
Hill County Commission Chair Kathy Bessette declined to comment stating she felt she needed to hear a presentation from the committee before she felt comfortable talking about the port authority.
Brekke said if the community chooses not to organize itself, “something will be left out and ultimately won't work.”
Brekke also said that combining efforts and making one “spoke of the wheel” responsible for the activation of the others will make things run more efficiently.
“It will create more efficient use of funds and creativity,” Brekke said.
“The state statutes for a port authority give it a very broad jurisdiction,” he added. “A port authority can be used to support transportation issues, economic issues ... it also has a separate tax authority, bonding authority, or it can be a self-sustaining fund.”
Tuss said he thought the committee had wanted to keep from exercising a mill levy authority. He asked how the authority would get operating funds.
“In my initial conversations with the committee, they expressed an interest in not having additional tax dollars from Hill County or Havre citizens,” he said. “If that is still the case, I am wondering aloud how the port authority will function without financial support.”
Tuss added that based on the information in the committee's initial report, the port authority appears as though it may be having to use the traditional method of a tax-funded port authority.
“If you review how others are financed, it is traditionally with a voted levy of the tax payers,” Tuss said. “I'm unsure about how this new entity will function on a daily basis without asking for additional taxes to go toward its operation.”
Brekke did not say how the committee expects the port authority to be funded, but listed options that included taxes and bonds.
Brekke said the committee is not yet ready to make a recommendation. The committee had previously planned to meet with Great Falls Development Authority before making recommendations to the City Council, but, the scheduling conflicts may prevent that. If the committee is unable to meet with Great Falls by the June 30 deadline, Brekke said, they will begin holding public hearings for citizens to ask questions and comment on the idea. At one of the meetings, he added, Shelby Mayor Larry Bonderud plans to attend to answer questions for Havre citizens.
“No one knew what this was when we started,” he said. “It's just another example of how Havre has been left behind the curve. Havre should have a port authority available in its tool box for economic strategy. All the committee members feel comfortable that this is a good idea.”