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City OKs water-sewer rate increase

| October 21, 2005 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

Libby water and sewer customers will be seeing a 2.7-percent increase in their monthly bills following action Monday night by the city council.

The council approved the proposed rate hike two weeks after a public hearing on the issue, during which several city residents voiced concerns about the impacts of the increase on people with low incomes.

For city residents, minimum water rates will increase from $22.92 per month to $23.54 per month for 3/4-inch or smaller meters and from $32.34 to $33.21 for 1-inch meters. For county residents, rates will increase from $28.66 to $29.43 for 3/4-inch or smaller meters and from $40.46 to $41.55 for 1-inch meters. The current base sewer rate of $15.64 per month would increase to $16.06 under the proposal.

At Monday's meeting, council member Doug Roll said Libby's water and sewer rates are "about even" with comparable cities in Montana. Mayor Tony Berget noted that rate increases to match the rising cost of living are part of an overall long-range plan for the city's infrastructure.

"With $22 million in water mains to replace, we've just got to keep on that every year," he said.

Roll said the increase is small but necessary to preclude large jumps in the rates in the future.

"I just don't want to sit back here and wait three years and raise it 20 percent," he said.

Councilman Stu Crismore stressed that the increase is only a cost of living adjustment.

"The cost of doing business has gone up 2.7 percent," he said. "We need to cover it. Otherwise we're moving backwards."

In other business, the council appointed six city residents to a new planning board and tabled a proposal to annex two pieces of land owned by the city.

The council approved Berget's nomination of Barb Desch, Bruce Moog, Bill Bischoff, Peggy Williams, Ron Thatcher and Amber Bresger to the planning board. The board will assist the council in the development and implementation of a growth plan to replace the existing plan, which dates from 1972.

On the advice of City Attorney Chuck Evans, the council tabled action on a proposal to annex the land on which the city's sewer plant sits and another city-owned parcel across the Kootenai River. Evans suggested the council review its growth plan before annexing the tracts, and he raised legal questions about which of two different sections in state law regarding annexation would apply in the case of the land across the river. Annexation would be possible in either case but would require different procedures.

Roll questioned whether the 1972 growth plan is even valid.

"It was supposed to be updated every five years," he said. "It was never updated. They didn't follow the rules of procedure when they made the plan."

Berget said the city will need to use the old plan at least until the new planning board is up and running.

"Let's face it, that new board, we're asking the impossible if we expect them to have that done by Jan. 1 or something," he said.

Councilman Lee Bothman said the 1972 plan "could be a starting point" for the development of a new plan.