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City moving ahead with Cabinet Heights annexation

| December 7, 2006 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

For Gary Elwood, the possibility of getting grants to extend sewer service to Cabinet Heights isn't good enough.

He'd prefer it was a sure thing before Libby City Council annexes more than 100 homes from his neighborhood into the city.

"I would like to see it laid out so we, the homeowners, (don't pay for it)," Elwood said during Monday's public hearing for the annexation of the Cabinet Heights area where he lives.

"It's gonna be $4 million-plus," Elwood continued. "For the residents up there, that's a pretty good chunk of change."

Council will vote on adopting an ordinance that would allow for the annexation during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12. Monday's public hearing was the second of two required for the annexation.

In September, the city mailed letters to area property owners informing them that they had 30 days to disconnect from municipal water service or give up their right to protest annexation. The letter was backed up by an ordinance based on laws on the books in other cities in Montana.

None of the property owners chose to disconnect their water service, Mayor Tony Berget had reported during an October council meeting.

0002000007C3000004E77BD,The city has been considering annexation of the area, which includes Reese Court and Cabinet View Country Club, for years. Annexation will allow the city to extend sewer service to the area.

Extension of sewer service was requested by developers of the country club, who borrowed more than $1 million from the city's economic development fund to expand the golf course from nine to 18 holes. The new nine holes are expected to be ready for golfers next spring.

The country club plans to repay the city with money raised through the sale of residential lots near the golf course.

The sewer project is estimated at around $3 million. The city is looking into paying for the work by creating a tax increment financing district for the Cabinet Heights area. Money borrowed from the state will be paid back through tax revenues from increased property values within the district.

While all property values in the area are expected to rise, the bulk of the increase will be from new real estate development on the lots around the golf course.

The project is expected to go out for bids next fall, with construction starting in 2008.

Extending sewer service to the area is motivated not only by the country club project but also by recurring sewage problems in the area resulting from poor drainage.

Annexation would require city workers to maintain streets and provide police protection.

Libby Police Chief Clay Coker doesn't expect to need additional staff to cover the Cabinet Heights area.

"They get less than 50 calls a year," Coker said. "We had 230 last month in the city. I don't see any significant increase."

Berget reported that city workers plowed the Cabinet Heights area during two recent snowfalls.

"City crews can maintain roads with current manpower," he said.

Cabinet Heights resident Bert Ward doesn't believe the public was adequately informed about the annexation.

"I think you caught people by surprise," Ward said. "You need to let the public know what's going on."