Council annexes across Kootenai
By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter
With a tie-breaking vote from Mayor Tony Berget, the Libby City Council on Monday approved annexation of city property across the Kootenai River.
At its November meeting, the council approved annexation of the city's sewer plant but split 3-3 on the property across the river. Berget declined to vote to break the tie, citing confusion about council rules and procedures. While state law calls for the mayor to vote in the event of a tie, Berget noted that the council's own policy indicated that a vote of four council members — with no mention of the mayor — is needed to pass an issue.
"That doesn't make sense to me," said City Attorney Charles Evans after reviewing the policy on Monday. "So I think that was written improperly."
Evans pointed to the city's charter, which follows state law and gives the mayor a vote to break a tie.
The council split along the same lines
Monday as at last month's meeting, with Charlene Leckrone, Doug Roll and Lee Bothman voting in favor of annexation and Wally McElmurry, Stu Crismore and Gary Huntsberger voting against. Opponents of the move questioned the need to annex the property now, when a new planning board has just been appointed to begin the process of updating Libby's 1972 growth plan.
"I don't want to get into it again, but why not now?" Roll said.
Bothman made a connection between the annexation and the direction the mayor and council have taken in favor of expanding the city limits.
"If the city owns property that isn't part of the city, what kind of example are we setting for everybody else?" he asked.
Crismore expressed concerns about the city's ability to provide services to the area.
"That's a major issue, bringing sewer and water across the river," he said.
The property includes parcels between Kootenai River Road and the river, between Kootenai River Road and Pipe Creek Road and on the other side of Pipe Creek Road. Berget previously pointed out that the city has received numerous inquiries in the past from parties interested in buying portions of the property. He said there are no imminent plans to sell any of the property but that he would like to see it inside city limits in the event that it should ever changes ownership.
In other business, the council:
* Continued discussions with Chris Noble regarding his plans for the former Louisiana-Pacific mill site west of Libby.
At last month's meeting, Noble told the council he is planning a subdivision of around 60 lots on the roughly 50-acre property. He asked the council to consider working with him to extend water and sewer lines to the property. Council members voiced concerns about the remaining capacity for expansion of the water and sewer systems but offered support for Noble's concept and agreed to discuss the issue and get back to him on it.
At Monday's meeting, Noble asked the council to provide him with some direction for his plans.
"Before I can do any subdivision out there, be it city or county, I need to know if I can even get there with sewer and water," he said.
City policy bars the extension of sewer service outside the city limits. Noble noted that with the city's annexation of its sewer plant property, there are only two property owners between the former Louisiana-Pacific site and the city limits. If those properties were brought into the city, Noble's property could be annexed as well.
Evans advised the council that county planner Ken Peterson has recommended against making any decisions regarding extension of new water and sewer lines until a new growth plan is in place. Berget asked city supervisor Dan Thede for his opinion on the feasibility of extending service to the proposed subdivision.
"The way we sit right now, I don't see it as a major concern," Thede said. "But we're at the point where we're starting to push the envelope with regards to our capacity for expansion."
Berget asked McElmurry, who manages the water treatment plant, for his opinion as well.
McElmurry said the city would be "shaking the dice" in making a decision on Noble's request.
"I don't know where you draw the line," he said. "We've got to put some money in the coffers to look at future expansion."
The council has been supportive of new residential development, but it's hard to commit without knowing more about the capacity of the systems, Crismore said.
Berget suggested that the council take up the issue with the planning board later this month or in early January.
"Do you guys need anything more from me?" Noble asked.
"Patience," Crismore said.
* Discussed a request from Kootenai Pets for Life for a long-term lease on city property adjacent to the county animal shelter along Pipe Creek Road. KPFL first presented the proposal to the council last month along with an alternate request — rejected by the council — for a variance to allow the group to build an animal shelter within the city limits on property near the city cemetery.
Representing KPFL, Eileen Carney asked the council for a 25-year lease for $100. KPFL would maintain the property and pay for utilities, she said.
"The city would have no obligation to make any improvements or do anything with the property," she said. "Everything on the property would be our responsibility."
Evans advised the council that it should not vote on the request without a more detailed written proposal. Berget asked Carney to provide a written proposal including information on things like the size of the planned facility and the number of animals it would house.
"I know there are a few of the neighbors who have concerns, or questions I should say," Berget said.
* Approved a first reading of an ordinance tightening the city's air quality regulations. The changes were proposed by the county health board to help bring the area into compliance with new federal standards governing fine particulate matter.
Studies have shown the primary component in the area's fine particulate pollution to be woodsmoke. Under the new regulations, woodstoves not certified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency would be banned from use in the Libby area starting Jan. 1, 2007. Starting in 2006, residential open burning would be permitted only during the month of April, with a provision for an extension to May if warranted by poor weather in April. Open burning is currently allowed from March through October.
A public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14, in the commissioners' office at the county courthouse.
* Received a request from Debbie Munro, representing Munro Investments, for a tax incentive on a new business mall at the corner of Sixth Street Extension and U.S. Highway 2.
The county commissioners approved a break on county taxes for the property last week. Munro asked the city to provide the same incentive on city taxes.
State law allows local governments to provide a tax exemption and abatement for the remodeling, reconstruction or expansion of an existing commercial building or structure that increases its value by at least 5 percent. The new mall, which will house five different businesses, is built on the site of the former Caboose restaurant and bar.
The increase in taxable value may be exempted from taxation during the construction period, not to exceed 12 months. The increase in value may be taxed at 20 percent of full value during the first year following construction, 40 percent the second, 60 percent the third, 80 percent the fourth and 100 percent the fifth year.
The council took no action on the issue but is considering the request.
* Met new city police officer Dave Knopf, who was administered the oath of office by Berget. Knopf previously worked as a police officer for the city of Reno and Humboldt County in Nevada. He said he is an avid deer hunter and is looking forward to living in Libby.