Missoula City Council Scrambles To Correct Misconceptions in Proposed Mountain Water Ordinance
After criticisms at Monday night's Missoula City Council Meeting leveled by Mountain Water employees and the public regarding a proposed ordinance specifying the operations of the utility, the council's Public Works Committee discussed the issue at its Wednesday meeting.
Looking back at comments made Monday night by Mountain Water President John Kappes, he reiterated his opposition to the entire concept of city ownership of the utility.
"You and the council have approved the spending of over $5.9 million in taxpayer money to represent to this community and the courts of Montana the reasons for the necessity for the city to own the water system," Kappes said. "This ordinance is proof that the reasons represented are fallacies.Because the very presentation of the ordinance to this council verifies the fact that the city leadership misrepresented the facts before the District Court in the condemnation case, the appropriate thing for this council to do would be to also retract the condemnation ordinance."
During Wednesday's meeting of the Public Works Committee, Mayor Engen restated some of the reasons for the condemnation lawsuit in the first place.
"The current owners have not made investments in the company,and that has resulted in a ton of deferred maintenance," Engen said. "That is a problem for the community, and that is what this lawsuit was about, as well as the fact that water is essential to human life and ought to be in the public domain, rather than investor owned."
Engen addressed the criticism over water rates raised during Monday night's meeting.
"While we have certainly criticized rates in the past, part of that criticism is that those rates were used to line the pockets of investors somewhere far away, and not used to reinvest in the system," he continued. "That's what we're going to use the rates for. We'll pay the employees, we'll operate the system and we'll improve it. That's what those rates will go to."
City Public Works Director John Wilson, who has worked a two other municipality-owned water utilities, addressed another issue brought up at Monday night's meeting.
"The concern about someone who can't pay their bill having to come before the city council to plead their case, I never have seen that happen in Kalispell or Whitefish, we worked that out at the billing desk," Wilson said. "I want to reassure you that customer service is at the top of the list."
The city still does not yet actually own the water company. The Montana Supreme Court will hold a necessity hearing on the matter at the University of Montana on Friday, April 22.