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Upbeat mayor shares Œstate of city¹

| January 13, 2005 11:00 PM

By Roger Morris Western News Publisher

When it comes to talking about Libby¹s future, nobody is more upbeat than Mayor Tony Berget, who listed the positives and the negatives of the past year in his annual State of the City speech.

Berget gave his speech Wednesday at the Libby Area Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon.

³There are so many positive things out there to talk about,² Berget said.

And he did, from spending the $8 million to new construction and remodeling projects to creation of new jobs.

³There have been a lot of changes that have happened this year,² the mayor said.

He started with city hall where Chris Erickson became city clerk in August. And where Police Chief Clay Coker is now hiring old, experienced police officers who have retired rather than young people who eventually leave for jobs with the Lincoln County Sheriff¹s Office.

³We seem to be the training ground for the county,² Berget said.

Berget continued saying the city used to pave over streets with problems and are now digging beneath the surface to find and remove problems before they pave.

³We¹re trying to make sure they¹re not continuing to fall apart,² the mayor said.

He said city crews were scheduled to replace the water main in the alley between California and Mineral Avenues and Third and Fourth streets but the bid came in $300,000 too high.

So the city is focusing on replacing water mains in the Johnson Acres subdivision where too often three and four homes were sharing small service lines resulting in very low water pressure. Cost of replacing the mains for the 75 homes in the subdivision is about $800,000, Berget said.

He said the city¹s sidewalk program is still in effect but is progressing slowly. And the city installed light pedestals for historic-type lighting along Lincoln Boulevard in front of the Memorial Center. Similar lighting will be installed behind city hall to light the parking light for the Ponderosa Room, he said.

³I don¹t want to see new taxes so I think we can do a little at a time and keep it within the budget,² he said. ³Improvements are a lot like eating an elephant: You have to take it one bite at a time.²

But all the small things count, he said.

³You add these up, little changes, and after a while they really add up to something,² Berget said.

He noted that there were 44 new building permits issued in the past year within the city with a majority of it for commercial construction and remodeling

³There were some new houses,² he continued. ³That¹s something we haven¹t seen in some time.²

As of Monday, 76 houses in Libby were for sale, Berget continued. There were 870 new home purchases ort turnovers with a majority occurring in the Libby area, he said. There are 42 pieces of raw land for sale in the Libby area.

There were 70 new electrical permits in the Libby area and 212 new septic system permits countywide with 103 in the Libby and Troy area.

³There¹s a lot of construction going on and I think it will continue into this year,² Berget said.

³When the mill closed down there was worry in the county that it would negatively impact the property valuation of the county,² the mayor said. Today, the value of the county is slightly higher than two years ago.

³It¹s not a big increase but it is an increase,² he said.

Recognizing that Libby encompasses more than the city limits, the mayor pointed to such projects as the golf course expansion and the new day lodge at Turner Mountain Ski Area.

³The city has started accumulating funding for the sewer line extension to the golf course,² Berget said. ³During the past year we have received two grants ands we will need more.²

The city¹s $8 million federal grant for economic development is down to just over $36,000, although more than $2 million remains in the account. That money is already committed to such projects as the golf course.

The expenditure of the fund over the past four years could take a whole meeting by itself, the mayor said.

³It was such a hard process,² he said. ³There were things in there (funded) that I wasn¹t entirely for but then there were things that I supported that other people didn¹t like.

³All in all there was a lot of positive that came out of it that money and over the years we will look back and say ŒYup, it was a good thing.¹²

On the employment side, Berget said that Semi Tool of Kalispell, which has a small operation manufacturing within the city, has 21 employees and hopes to bump it up to 50-60 people within the coming year.

Genesis, which is reopening the Troy Mine, has 118 employees and is adding 5-7 a week through the end of February when they hope to have 150-160 people working at the silver-copper mine, Berget noted.

³They¹re taking three carloads (train car loads of ore) a day out a day already,² he said.

Mines Management Inc. is starting the process to develop the Montanore silver-copper mine project and there is speculation that both Montanore and the Rock Creek project could be mined from the Libby side of the Cabinets because of strong opposition downstream to the Rock Creek mine.

³There are lots of cottage businesses starting out there,² the mayor said. ³People are making fishing poles and other things that diversify us quite a bit.²

One thing concerning the mayor is the proposed outsourcing of local jobs by the U.S. Forest Service.

³These are good jobs,² he said. ³They pay well with benefits and they are good people to have in the community.²

Another concern is the growing amount of commercial business conducted on the internet at the expense of local businesses.

³You¹re just a number on the internet,² he said. ³You won¹t get the service you can find locally. The businesses on the internet are not supporting Little League or the boy Scouts, or school programs and other community events such as Nordicfest.²

A pending problem for Libby, it¹s air quality, should be seen as a positive, Berget said.

³It think it¹s a real positive because we all want to see cleaner air,² he said. ³I cringe a little bit about having another round of media reports about the community.²

Overall, the mayor said the community has a lot to look forward to.

³There are so many things out there that are so positive,² Berget said. ³It¹s really looking good.²