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Fire service expansion postponed

| February 24, 2005 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

A decision on a proposal to expand the Cabinet View fire service area has been postponed until next month after county officials found that not all property owners in the area were properly notified.

The issue was scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday before the county commissioners. But Commissioner John Konzen said at the beginning of the hearing that the county attorney's office had advised him that while the hearing had been advertised in local newspapers, legal requirements had not been met because the county had failed to mail out notices to affected residents.

Public input was taken at Wednesday's hearing, but another hearing was scheduled for March 16 to allow all property owners affected by the proposal to participate.

The Cabinet View fire service area currently covers 26 residences and four businesses. The expansion proposal calls for the service area to be extended to include all of the roughly 200 residences within five miles of the fire hall along Luscher Drive.

The five-mile radius represents the maximum distance recognized for insurance purposes. Insurance discounts vary depending on the department's rating. Structures more than five driving miles from a fire station are considered without protection by the insurance industry.

Residential structures within the Cabinet View service area are assessed $125 per year to help fund the department. Commercial structures are assessed $75 per year, and buildings like shops and barns are assessed $10 each.

Tom Wood, who serves as chief of the Libby Volunteer Fire Department and works as an insurance agent, said the owner of a $100,000 home will probably see enough of an insurance savings to break even at $125 per year.

A petition to extend the Cabinet View service area exceeded the required 30 signatures needed to qualify the issue for a hearing. County Clerk and Recorder Coral Cummings said she was able to confirm that 42 signatures on the petition were from property owners in the area.

A petition in opposition to the expansion, signed by 15 people, was submitted by area resident Alvin Benitz. Benitz said he would rather see the Libby Rural Fire District expand to cover the area.

"Let's join the big boys," he said. "Let's not start another one."

Cabinet View fire chief Dale Sabine said his department is trying to provide a service to benefit the area.

"It's true that my fire department has only been in existence for two years, but we're gaining in experience and training all the time."

Konzen voiced support for the department's efforts.

"It sounds like you're a fledgling department going through growing pains, and a little bigger tax base will help you get there quicker," he said.

The county commissioners will make a decision on the expansion following the March 16 hearing. Under state law, the proposal cannot be approved if a majority of property owners within the proposed expansion area are in opposition.