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Council OKs mill levy for flood

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| February 17, 2011 10:55 AM

The Libby City Council approved, on its

second attempt, an emergency two-mill levy last Thursday to cover

the cost associated with last month’s flooding on Flower Creek.

The measure, which could only be

adopted with a unanimous vote, failed on the first try with D.C.

Orr’s opposition at Monday’s regular council meeting last week. It

passed at Thursday’s special meeting, but only after a heated

exchange between Orr and Mayor Doug Roll.

The levy is expected to raise $5,600,

equating to about $5-6 from each property owner, Roll said at the

meeting. Though not all the bills had been computed as of

presstime, the cost is estimated at about $8,000, according to city

officials – the bulk of which will go to city and county worker

overtime and contracted labor and machinery.

The levy’s passage was mandatory in

order for the state to provide funding for the remaining cost and

for emergency expenses that arise during the rest of the fiscal

year. Without the levy, the bills would have been paid from the

city’s general fund, officials said.

Orr had issues to clear up before he

would agree to the vote – he wondered if the city had liability for

some of the flooding, if Lincoln County was responsible for the

cost and if a contractor had charged too much for labor.

Orr first asked why the city was paying

for the cost of the flooding if Lincoln County Emergency Management

was the lead agency in the response. Roll explained that the city

was actually the lead agency and that the county is contracted out

in emergencies to carry out the incident command system.

The lone councilman responded that he

had wished the mayor and council would have answered his questions

at the last meeting in which the levy was brought up for a

vote.

“You guys try and ram this stuff down

my throat and you know you’ve got the votes to do it and in this

one case, I had the deciding vote, like you say,” he said. “What I

was looking for was answers to my questions.”

Orr described a rumor that stated that

the city had caused a surge when it entered the creek with an

excavator to remove ice. The safety officer in the emergency,

Charlie Comer, explained to Orr that the surge actually occurred

when a large ice jam from upstream in the canyon traveled into town

and collided with ice at the Balsam Street bridge. It caused the

water level to rise and the ice to split up, he explained, which

produced the surge.

That led Orr to another question, which

caused a confrontation with the mayor.

“If this surge came out of the county,

doesn’t the county share liability?” he asked.

“Actually, if you want to carry that to

the logical conclusion,” Roll responded, “I think we need to blame

God because he brought the rain. If you really want to do that, I

mean, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

An angry Orr demanded an apology for

the “personal affront,” of which Roll offered an unremorseful,

“Sorry.”

“You better be sorry,” Orr said, to

which Roll replied with a sarcastic moan.

“I think you just made up my mind,” Orr

threatened. “If you’re going to act like a 2-year-old, we’re going

to act like 2-year-olds.”

Councilmember Peggy Williams eventually

prompted the two to end their argument, which she described as

“non-productive.”

The final issue Orr brought up was that

of Noble Excavating, which – along with other contractors – used

its excavators and workforce to break up the ice and force it

through the opening under the city’s bridges. Orr disputed the

company’s bill, stating that it charged for unnecessary labor.

Roll argued that the bills were not the

issue at hand, as they could be debated when the council pays the

claims later in the month.

“If we don’t discuss the bills, then we

don’t know if we don’t need the emergency levy,” Orr reasoned.

Roll said he believed the bills were

high enough either way to call for a levy and that if there was

money left over after claims are debated, it could be placed into a

fund for future emergency expenses.

After discussion of how county

emergency management chooses contractors, the council carried out

the vote.