Mayor John Engen Discusses Mountain Water Court Ruling [WATCH]
Missoula Mayor John Engen said he first heard about District Judge Karen Townsend's ruling for the city against Mountain Water late Monday afternoon, just minutes before the weekly city council meeting.
After meeting with attorneys on Tuesday morning, Engen held a press conference to discuss what the court's decision means to him and to the city as they go forward in the effort to acquire the water utility from Carlyle Partners.
Engen read from a press release, stating "the city now has proved its case on behalf of our current citizens and our future generations that public ownership of our water system is better for this community than private ownership," Engen said.
In responding to questions from the press, Engen explained how the city is paying for the acquisition process, that so far has surpassed $3 million.
"We established a separate account based on an ordinance that the city council had passed," he said. "In effect, we've been borrowing from ourselves for this acquisition, planning to pay it back either through the acquisition process itself, or in the event that we're unsuccessful, we'd have to figure out a way to pay it back through general fund expense savings or additional taxes. We will be able to roll this into the total acquisition costs so there should be no tax implications, nor do we believe through our analysis hat there should be a rate implication to rate payers in the system."
Attorney Natasha Jones with Boone Karlberg addressed the issue of leakage and loss of water in the present water system and how that issue would be handled by the company and the city.
"It is a fact," Jaones said. "It is not disputed by Carlyle that this system leaks more water than it delivers to the customers. It is a system that is aged and tens of millions of dollars are necessary in the coming years to fix the system. The court specifically found that she (Judge Townsend) did not believe Liberty when it said that there wouldn't be a rate consequence upon their purchase of the system."
The next step in the process will be for the city to make an offer to purchase the system. If that offer is rejected, a water court will be selected, and the valuation process would begin.
Before the trial began, both sides maintained they would appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, which Jones felt would be advantageous to the city, considering the opinions set forth by Judge Townsend.
"She very thoughtfully weighed the evidence and she set forth an order that we feel will be well received by the Montana Supreme Court if an appeal is made and we think unlikely it would be disturbed on appeal."