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Cabinet Heights sewer project advances

| December 14, 2006 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

The Libby City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution to create a tax increment financing district to help finance a proposed sewer project for the Cabinet Heights area.

Extension of sewer service to the area had been requested by developers of Cabinet View 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 and plan to repay the city with income from the sale of residential lots near the golf course.

Poor drainage in the area has led to recurring problems with septic systems, and city sewer service is expected to make development of the lots around the country club more viable. The sewer project is estimated at around $3 million.

The tax increment financing district will earmark any increase in overall property tax revenues within the district for repayment of debts incurred to finance the sewer project. The increased revenues would be primarily a result of new development but could also be generated by rising values of existing property.

The district has a maximum life of 15 years, Mayor Tony Berget said Tuesday.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council held a first reading of an ordinance to annex the area where the sewer project is planned. The area includes more than 100 homes. Annexation is a prerequisite for sewer service.

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 enacted in other cities in Montana. None of the property owners chose to disconnect their water service.

The city held a public hearing on the annexation issue on Dec. 4.

Tuesday's meeting marked the return of Stu Crismore to the city council. Crismore had been removed by a 4-3 vote at a council meeting in August under a state law allowing for the removal of officials for various reasons including "open neglect or refusal to discharge duties." City attorney Chuck Evans advised the council that Crismore's failure to attend a number of meetings over the previous months could be considered grounds for removal.

Arguing that state law required a two-thirds majority vote to remove a municipal officer, Crismore challenged the council's decision in district court. Judge Michael Prezeau initially issued an order barring the council from removing Crismore, then rescinded the order after deciding the council had acted within the law.

Last week, the Montana Supreme Court overturned Prezeau's ruling and ordered him to reinstate the writ prohibiting the council from removing Crismore pending additional court proceedings. The Supreme Court noted that Prezeau did not address factual issues of how many meetings Crismore missed, whether he received due process prior to the council's vote and whether he actually neglected his office or refused to perform his duties.

On Tuesday, Prezeau issued an order requiring the council to restore Crismore to office and not remove him without another court order. He gave the city until Dec. 29 to file arguments in the case and Crismore until Jan. 12 to respond. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for Jan. 25.

Crismore's reinstatement unseated Peggy Williams, who had been appointed in November to fill the vacancy.