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LADC mulls turning over funds to port authority

| October 22, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum Western News Reporter

The Libby Area Development Co. is considering a proposal to hand over the remainder of the city¹s $8 million economic development fund to the Lincoln County Port Authority.

About $800,000 remains in the account and unallocated. About $4 million is due to be returned to the fund through loans and certificates of deposit purchased to secure loans. Under a proposal discussed by the LADC on Wednesday, that money ? with the exception of a $1 million loan to the city — would be under the control of the port authority after it is returned to the fund.

The LADC will make a decision on the proposal at a formal meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 27. If approved, the recommendation will be forwarded to the Libby City Council. The council has the final say on how the fund, started four years ago with a federal grant, is spent.

The proposal was presented on Monday at a joint meeting of the city council, port authority, LADC and Kootenai River Development Corp.

Port authority board president Jim Mayo told the city council the organization needs access to the funds to be able to respond quickly to the needs of businesses looking at moving to the former Stimson mill site, which was donated to the port authority at the end of 2003.

³You need the cash in your account to pull the trigger and make it happen now, not two months from now,² Mayo said.

Five businesses, including the Stimson finger joint plant, are located on the port authority property and employ more than 100 people. Of those, 20 to 25 are jobs that are new to the area.

Two other businesses, which would employ another 13 people, have committed to using the site in the near future. A business in the gun industry is also taking a close look at the site and is considering moving eight to 10 employees to Libby with plans to hire another 65-85 over the next two years.

The property is generating nearly enough income to pay for basic maintenance and allow the port authority to start paying back a $96,000 loan to the city fund, Mayo said. Most of the usable space in the buildings on the site has been rented out, he said.

³We¹re at the point where we could be sold out in something just a little over a year after getting that property, which I think is outstanding,² Mayo said.

If there had been a port authority in Lincoln County when the $8 million was granted, it probably would have received the funds instead of the city, said LADC board president Bob Parker. The port authority would be able handle funding requests more quickly than the current system, he said.

³They can operate faster than anybody else because they¹re exempt from the rules that control county commissioners and city councils and that sort of thing,² he said.

The port authority needs the money in its account to erect another building and promote additional development at the former mill site, said board member Ardell Filler.

³In the law, that money was supposed to be set aside to get business in here, and we haven¹t done a very good job of it,² he said.

The port authority is committed to economic development, Mayo said.

³We are not interested in fluff, beautification or new storefronts, not that there¹s anything wrong with that,² he said. ³We are here to create jobs, period.²

City council member Stu Crismore expressed support for the proposal and said it would give the council more time to spend on other issues needing attention.

³I have to agree with Bob and Ardell that we are spending entirely too much time on this,² he said.

Mayor Tony Berget stressed that the proposal needed to be formally considered by the LADC before the city could make a decision.

³We have that in front of us I guess and we just have to go through the channels and see where it goes,² he said.

Berget indicated that the city might be willing to give the port authority the $800,000 currently in the account but not the money to be paid back from the outstanding loans and CDs.

³We¹d like to be able to use that fund to be able to borrow back out,² he said.