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County approves port levy

| June 25, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

With activity at the former Stimson mill site picking up, the Lincoln County Commissioners on Wednesday approved a request from the county port authority to enact a 2-mill levy to allow the hiring of a property manager for the site.

State law allows up to 2 mills to be levied without a vote of the electorate to support a port authority. The port authority was formed in September 2002 and took possession of the Stimson property at the end of 2003, but had not requested a mill levy until this week.

³We waited until we had an asset that justified that,² port authority board member Amy Guth told the commissioners.

To maintain the Stimson site, the port authority received a $96,000 loan from the city¹s economic development fund. The money was granted as a loan to be paid back when the revenues from the site exceed expenditures. Current rental income from tenants at the site amounts to $5,400 per month.

In addition to the Stimson finger joint plant, which pays only a nominal amount, tenants on the property include a firm that deals in rock for construction and landscaping, a builder of wood-fired boilers, the firm that provides security for Libby Superfund project, and CDM, which provides oversight services for the Superfund cleanup.

Since the port authority took possession of the property, daily management of the site has been taken on at no charge by Kootenai River Development Corp. director Paul Rumelhart. Guth told the commissioners on Wednesday that the consensus of the port authority board is that the time has come to enact the levy and hire a dedicated site manager, allowing Rumelhart to focus on economic development activities instead of day-to-day maintenance of the property.

³We haven¹t had a formal vote of the port yet,² she said. ³We have a straw vote that says we have a majority.²

A nine-member board can¹t be expected to make all the decisions needed to handle daily operations at the site, Guth said.

³We can¹t be having meetings every single day,² she said. ³Someone has to be assigned that responsibility.²

Rumelhart acknowledged that managing the property has been taking up an increasing amount of his time.

³It¹s the maintenance, the day-to-day things that occur out there,² he said.

At the current value, a 2-mill levy would raise a little more than $50,000 per year and cost the average property owner in Lincoln County ³in the neighborhood of $5,² said Commissioner Rita Windom.

The commissioners agreed Wednesday to research the law regarding the levy with the intent of including it in the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The levy must be renewed annually at the request of the port authority board.

Commissioner John Konzen said he would like to see other projects progress as quickly as the port authority.

³I think it¹s a pretty amazing success story in a short period of time,² he said.

Commissioner Marianne Roose said the port authority is worth the investment.

³In my mind you¹ve got to recognize if you¹re going to move forward and you¹re going to grow, it costs money to do that,² she said.