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Cabinet Heights residents voice annexation concerns

| January 23, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Since having their homes annexed into Libby, Cabinet Heights residents seem to appreciate the city's snow plowing efforts.

They also can look forward to a 25 percent reduction in water rates.

Many, however, feel the city failed to completely inform them about the process.

"We felt we were railroaded," resident Wendy Berry told Mayor Tony Berget during a Thursday meeting attended by more than 30 of her neighbors at Plummer Elementary School.

Many also are concerned about a $2.5 million to $3 million proposal to extend the sewer system to their neighborhood at the request of Cabinet View Country Club. Septic tanks are currently used. Cabinet Heights residents are worried about the cost of connecting to the sewer system.

"On Scenery Road, we have a lot of people on fixed incomes," said resident Kathy Jenkins. "A lot aren't rich."

"The whole goal is to do it at little or no cost," Berget said. "The hookup fee is not the preferred alternative."

Libby Council voted in December to annex the more than 100 homes from Cabinet Heights.

Cabinet View Country Club borrowed more than $1 million from the city's economic development fund to expand the golf course from nine to 18 holes and plans 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 city could not offer the sewer service without annexing Cabinet Heights.

The council also agreed to create a tax increment financing district to pay for the sewer project. Any increase in overall property tax revenues within Cabinet Heights will be used to help pay for the sewer project. The increased revenues would come from new development but could also be generated by rising values of existing property.

"For the next 15 years, if we increase taxes, we can use that amount for Cabinet Heights (to pay on the sewer project,)" Berget said. "Every time a home is built inside the district or along the new nine (holes), that whole tax (is included as repayment). That's a considerable amount of money."

The new money created by tax increases would normally go to the state, county and school district.

Adding another 200 homes to the city's sewer system would add "pennies" to the cost of operations, Berget said.

"The money from those 200 homes would go back to the plant to improve it," he said.

The city also has secured a $600,000 grant to expand the sewer system and is looking at other funding, Berget said.

Resident Bob Jenkins asked if there was any way to get out of the annexation.

"There are some avenues," Berget said. "If it goes to court and if you lose, you pay. If you win I think the city has to pay. Whitefish went all the way to the Montana Supreme Court (on an annexation) and Whitefish won."