Ward Two City Councilor Adam Hertz said on Sunday that Mayor John Engen and the Missoula City Council bear the responsibility for increased taxes or eventual higher rates once the Mountain Water lawsuit is decided. 

The Missoulian newspaper reported over the weekend that the city of Missoula has already exceeded the $400,000 budgeted for the initial costs in its lawsuit against the Carlyle group, months before the issue even goes to court.

Hertz, one of the sole conservatives on the city council, said the cost overruns on the lawsuit, which he has opposed from its inception, is just a matter of common sense

"I don't claim to have a crystal ball," Hertz said. "But what I do have is this quality that seems to be lacking in a lot of our public officials, and that's called honesty and common sense, and that's how I knew this was going to happen from the get-go. I hate to say 'I told you so', because it's not good news for the taxpayers,but I did tell them so, and nobody wanted to listen."

photo by Peter Christian

Hertz said the $400,000 spent so far is just a drop in the bucket compared to what the overall actual costs may be.

"It's going to go into the millions, and I've said that from the beginning," Hertz said. "It's abusive to the taxpayers and is bordering on malfeasance. It's absolutely ridiculous that a city would spend this kind of money to take over a private company that historically has served its customers very well. I think there's a lot of ego and ideology at play  and I don't think they're going to give up. I think we're going to end up with a bill to the taxpayers in the millions of dollars."

How will the city pay for these larger than expected legal bills? Hertz says there is a state law that allows the city to pass the litigation costs directly on to the taxpayers.

"I think the council will just continue to move forward," Hertz said. "They seem to have found a new loophole in state law to fund things like these, and that's the new judgment levy, so they're just going to stick it on the backs of taxpayers. A judgment levy is just another line item on your tax bill. The legislature caps the city's ability to levy taxes, but there are certain levies that can go around that limit, like the special taxing districts that have been in the news. Now the city has created a judgment levy to pay the costs of lawsuits. They've already used it on the South Avenue lawsuits, and they think they can use the same thing on the condemnation lawsuit if it fails."

Hertz said win or lose, Missoula taxpayers will foot the bill.

"If the city wins, the rate payers will get stuck paying the bill, but the worst case scenario is if the city loses the lawsuit, then the taxpayers will be stuck with all of it," he said. "That includes taxpayers that aren't even Mountain Water consumers such as myself and a lot of neighbors in my ward. Areas like the Ranch Club and others like Grant Creek where they have their own private water systems, they'll get stuck with the bill on this and there was never any upside for them in this from the beginning."

It will be another six months before the condemnation lawsuit sees the inside of a courtroom.

Ward Two City Councilor Adam Hertz