City continues negotiations with Mountain Water employees

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Negotiations between the city and employees of Mountain Water Co. continue to advance, just as the city prepares to file another round of briefs in District Court over payments owed to area developers, the city’s chief administrative officer said Wednesday.

In an update to the City Council, Dale Bickell said briefs are due before District Judge Leslie Halligan on Friday related to the developer extension suit still pending with the court.

Halligan ruled in February that Mountain Water must pay roughly $22.4 million in contract obligations owed to local developers from proceeds it will receive from the city’s purchase of the utility.

That funding would be set aside from the $88.6 million the city will pay to acquire Mountain Water, though several underlying issues still linger.

“The briefs are related to how much should be deposited, though there’s not a dispute on the actual liability,” Bickell said. “It’s the amount that should be set aside related to that, and whether there should be a present-value calculation.”

Bickell said several developers weren’t named in the initial suit, raising questions about their reimbursement. He said all parties will have a chance to brief the court come Friday’s deadline.

“The face value of all the developer extension agreements is $22.4 million, but they are paid over time, so there’s questions whether that’s the value today,” Bickell said. “There are also parties with developer agreements that weren’t named in the suit, so how are they to be treated?”

Bickell said the city also continues to negotiate with Mountain Water employees over future employment with the city. He said the city is currently negotiating with two separate parties represented by two different attorneys.

He said the talks continue to advance and a fuller conversation is slated for next week.

“We hired two employees from Mountain Water to help with transition efforts,” Bickell said. “The other employees wouldn’t come over until after the transition is completed. They need to continue their duties managing the water system today.”

Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler said the city plans to fulfill the commitment it made throughout the legal proceedings to Mountain Water employees. City leaders last month said they planned to acquire the utility in a matter of weeks.

“The city of Missoula and the mayor in his negotiation with Mountain Water has put in writing and said in court throughout this whole thing that we’d match their salaries and compensation, and guarantee that for some employees for five years,” Marler said. “That has not changed since the beginning. We’ve been consistent in our position on that.”