By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
Missoula County on Thursday filed a motion in District Court to intervene in the Mountain Water Co. case, asking the court to determine its rights concerning 17 outstanding contracts owed by the utility valued at roughly $700,000.
Members of the Civil Division with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office filed the motion late Thursday evening.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, as everyone knows, in all of this,” John Harte, an attorney with the Civil Division, told commissioners earlier in the day. “Given that uncertainty and the current state of affairs, it’s our office’s strong recommendation – in the interest of the taxpayers – that we intervene in this action and ask the court to determine what our rights are.”
The commissioner’s decision to intervene comes one month after a group of Missoula developers filed their own petition in District Court. Their attorney, Robert Bell, said his 23 clients have contracts with Mountain Water worth $11 million.
Who will be responsible for paying those contracts if the city succeeds in its condemnation efforts remains uncertain. The county is looking for clarification from the court to ensure its outstanding contracts are honored.
“The county has some of those contracts,” said Matt Jennings, also with the county’s Civil Division. “We started looking into some of the alternatives to make sure Missoula County’s interests are taken into account as this moves forward.”
Like the developers, the county payed Mountain Water an advance to bring water infrastructure to new projects. In return, the company is obligated to repay the funding over time. The county placed the number of contracts owed by Mountain Water at 17.
“In each instance, Mountain Water’s contractual agreement to refund the advances was an integral element of Missoula County’s decision to engage in development efforts and to fund facilities,” the county’s motion reads. “Missoula County is entitled to have the remaining balance owed on each (contract) satisfied out of the fund awarded to Mountain Water in compensation for the water system.”
Jennings advised the county to not wait for further developments in the case. While the county could initiate its own action at a later date, he said, it made more sense to coordinate efforts in determining who will be obligated to honor the contracts.
“If the developers get their contracts resolved, it won’t necessarily determine Missoula County’s rights,” he said. “Rather than having two parallel and substantially similar actions, it makes a lot of sense to be coordinating efforts to determine these template contracts.”