Local Government Expert Speaks in Havre About Charter Referendum

HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – MSU Local Government Director Dan Clark held a presentation at Havre City Hall on Thursday evening to speak with the public about an upcoming referendum on the General Election ballot.

If approved by a majority of the voters, Havre would become a Charter government with self-governing powers.

The presentation, which featured a lengthy question-and-answer session, lasted just under two hours.

“Right now, (Havre) can only exercise those powers and authority specifically granted to you by the legislature. So if there is something the City of Havre decides is in their best interest that they want to act or initiate, and if they don’t have that specific power, they can’t do it. That’s why I say you have nothing to lose by adopting self-governing powers, because then it allows you to do whatever you want to do. You can be more responsive and self-determined with self-governing powers.”

The City Council-Mayor relationship would not change, and the public would be unlikely to notice anything substantially different in the immediate future if the referendum is passed.

“None of that changes. The same budgeting process, the same format and structure of your public meetings. The hearing process is the same. So that basic structure of local government, none of that changes. You won’t notice any substantial difference in the way they operate. Day to day operations will look the same. It just creates an opportunity to exercise the power, authority or seek the opportunity that isn’t currently allowed by the legislature.”

What the adoption of a Charter and self-governing powers would do is potentially provide additional opportunities for the city to take advantage of down the road.

“The community of Saco, they own their own city gas wells. They have gas rights and they pump gas outs and they have a natural gas delivery system that they provide as a public utility like water and sewer service. They also offer natural gas as a utility.”

Even though this referendum would give Havre’s government more options, there are plenty of red lines they will still not be able to cross. This includes powers, “prohibited by the constitution, law or charter.”

“Most of those things that create angst within a community of saying, ‘Oh, we’re fearful the local government is going to run a muck.’ Whatever those fears you may have, that they might start taxing uncontrollably or whatever. There are stop gaps. Those are some of the powers that are denied, that the city doesn’t have the authority to regulate those particular issues.”

The legislature has also prohibited municipalities from powers such as affecting the right to keep or bear arms and changing collective bargaining agreements.

Of the 127 municipalities in Montana, 40 have adopted self-governing powers. 31 have a charter, and nine have self-governing powers but no charter.

If the referendum is not approved, the issue would not be able to be back on the ballot in Havre until at least 2023.

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