County Justice Court to absorb Libby City Court

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With Libby City Court Judge Lucille Briggs retiring after many years on the bench, the City Council voted to accept a proposal from Lincoln County Justice Court to take on its caseload at Monday’s meeting.

Justice of the Peace Jay Sheffield made the pitch after talking with his staff. He said they believed they could take on the city court cases and maintain their current level of efficiency.

Part of Sheffield’s case to the Council was that his Court has experience merging with a court after doing so in 2014 when the Eureka Justice Court was closed by the county commissioners.

Another point Sheffield made was that Justice Court is open 45 hours per week while City Court is only open 20 hours a week. Sheffield said he has presided over Justice Court for more than 10 years and has 40 years in the criminal justice system.

Briggs’ last day will be Friday, Aug. 9, and the new agreement calls for the term to begin Monday, Aug. 12 and end June 30, 2020. If the deal is renewed, the term would begin July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

The city will pay Lincoln County $33,012 per year for the services, supplies and office space as part of the agreement.

The money will be split between Sheffield ($17,908) and three court clerks ($13,104). $2,000 goes toward twice-annual judicial training conferences.

One downside is that a City Court clerk will lose her job.

But council cited the cost savings as one big reason leading to its unanimous vote.

In other business, city administrator Jim Hammons explained the work the public works crew did to fix a water line break that occurred July 31 that left hundreds of people without water.

Hammons said before workers shut off three large water mains to do the needed work, water plant operators estimated that it lost about 2,500 gallons per minute. Three large mains that provide water to the entire town had to be shut down.

The water leak was from an abandoned 6-inch main “T” that had a cap on one end. When it rusted out and blew off, it left a 6-inch open main under high pressure.

There was also a water line that came apart July 26 at the Pure North Athletic Club, closing it for a week. An employee shut the valve down, but flooding in the club was extensive, according to Hammons. STAT Restoration, of Kalispell, vacuumed the water, removed the floor trim and drilled 1-inch holes in the sheet rock to get air in to help dry it.

STAT also placed 80 fans, nine humidifiers and three large heaters to dry the floors. It took four days to dry and after shampooing the carpets and one more day of drying, the club reopened August 2.

Also, Chief of Police Scott Kessell said his department took 349 calls in July, up substantially from the 308 they had in July 2018.

Officers wrote 45 citations and made 22 arrests last month. All were increases from last year at the same time.

That’s the trend,” Kessell said. “We expect to see increases because we are getting a lot more traffic from the Flathead Valley.”

Kessell said there wasn’t one type of criminal activity driving the increase.

“There wasn’t anything specific, drugs, misdemeanors, it was across the board,” he said.

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