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Council endorses streetscape plan

| September 16, 2005 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

A $7.65 million streetscape project received the endorsement of the Libby City Council on Monday, but the council stopped short of making a financial commitment to the project.

Consultants who worked on the proposal, commissioned by Libby Revitalization Inc., briefed the council on the plan before asking for the city's support.

According to Lorraine Roach of the Hingston Roach Group, proposed actions for 2005-2006 include the creation of sidewalk dining opportunities, art displays, installation of hanging flower baskets, relocating and restoring the railroad depot at the end of Mineral Avenue and improving business and wayfinding signs. The plan is for heavier construction to take place in 2007, including building entry monuments, landscaping along the streets and narrowing crosswalks by extending corner curbs out into the street. A sculpture would be placed at the end of Mineral Avenue near the relocated depot, which would serve as a center for historic displays. The adjacent park would also be improved.

Larry Comer of Welch Comer & Associates pegged the cost of Mineral Avenue streetscape improvements, including landscaping, tree planting and curb and crosswalk work, at $4.85 million. Work at the depot would add another $1.62 million, a project to improve the park at the old high school another $561,300, and improvements to Lincoln Boulevard and Second Street between Mineral and California avenues $430,100 and $191,200, respectively.

Comer briefed the council on various federal and state funding sources but stressed the importance of establishing local matching funds first. A local match could include funds from the creation of a special improvement district, the city's capital improvements budget, a resort area tax and private contributions, Comer said. Matching funds can be leveraged to bring in five to 10 times the amount of money raised locally, he said.

Comer suggested the city consider establishing a special improvement district that could raise around $400,000. He proposed an assessment of $75 to $100 per front foot, which would equal $3,750 to $5,000 on a 50-foot lot. Forming the district would allow the city to sell bonds to pay for improvements. After selling the bonds, the city would enact the assessment to pay back the bonds. Property owners could choose to pay the assessment all at once or spread payment out over a number of years. At 5-percent interest for 15 years, the owner of a 50-foot lot would make annual payments of $360 to $480, Comer said.

A good first step would be for the city to simply endorse the plan, Comer said. Roach encouraged the city to take the lead financially as well.

"In order for the private sector to have the confidence to invest, there needs to be some public sector investment," she said.

Mayor Tony Berget suggested a motion from the council to continue working on the streetscape plan. Councilman Wally McElmurry said he thought the whole council would be in favor of the plan, but he expressed concerns about the cost.

"We need to start somewhere," said Councilwoman Charlene Leckrone.

Moving to endorse the plan, Councilman Gary Huntsberger pointed out that the city has invested $300,000 in LRI over the past three years.

"It would be rather absurd if we sat here and said we don't want to have anything to do with it," he said.

The motion passed by a 6-0 vote of the council.