Mountain Water says, “Be afraid, be very afraid”

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Mountain Water Co. has been spending big bucks on an advertising campaign vilifying Missoula’s efforts to purchase the city’s water supply.

Some not-so-subtle threats are included in the ads:

As the owners of the system, we intend to exhaust every legal avenue to protect our property and rights.

In other words, we’re going to string this out as long as possible to screw you, the citizens of Missoula.  That will teach you to mess with multi-national utility companies and equity firms.

The ads also decry the huge amount of money the city has spent on attorney fees, something like $5 million.  Why so much?  Please re-read the block quote above.

And do you think the ploy of the international equity firm, The Carlyle Group, to sell the water company to Liberty Utilities (the new owner of Mountain Water) without PSC oversight was some half-baked scheme?  Of course it wasn’t.  This will just keep the sale in the courts that much longer, this time with Montanans living outside Missoula picking up the tab for extraneous PSC and court costs as the suits and counter suits wend their way through the system.

Some other scare tactics include estimates for massive infrastructure improvements, to the tune of about $6 million, the city will have to undertake.  But wouldn’t Liberty Utilities have to make these same improvements?  Maybe it would and maybe it wouldn’t.  It’s not like Mountain Water has been on top of maintenance during its ownership.  One expert pegs the system’s water loss at 4.6 billion gallons a year.  That is not a typo.

If the improvements are to be made, it could affect rate-payer fees, whether the system is owned by the city or Mountain/Liberty.  Do you believe Mountain/Liberty is going to pass these costs on to its shareholders?  Hah! The repairs and upgrades need to be done.  But what Missoula water users won’t have to pay for, if we eventually end up owning the system, are the profits Liberty has to make to keep the shareholders happy.

Here’s a link to one of the full page ads that have appeared in the Missoulian and Missoula Independent.  There could be radio and TV advertising, too, but I don’t visit those media often.  I think I saw a billboard the other day, though.

I’m thinking about making March “Don’t Pay Your Water Bill” month.  Not if a portion of it is going to a marketing campaign telling me that, as a citizen of Missoula, I shouldn’t own my own water supply — that I should be at the mercy of a subsidiary of a Canadian utility conglomerate for one of the most precious resources on this planet.

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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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DavidJohn KappesDon PogrebaPete TalbotS. P. Royce Recent comment authors
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Greg Strandberg
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I don’t have a water bill. Why should a regular, 9-to-5, barely-getting-by renter in Missoula, be concerned about this?

If you have some numbers backing up the claim that my rent will go up, I’d like to see ’em. That’s the main argument I hear from property owners on this one as to why I should be concerned.

What do you think?

Don Pogreba
Admin

It’s possible that the world has issues that don’t just affect you, Greg.

And it seems quite logical to assume that owners will pass on additional costs to renters rather than absorbing them. I’d say the burden of proof rests more heavily on the person making the claim that seems unlikely to be true.

Pogo Possum
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Pogo Possum

With all respect Greg, I can fully understand why you would think you are immune from any impact of increased water rates as a renter if your landlord is footing the bill as part of your rent. However, as a landlord, I can assure you that all increased costs of operating a rental property eventually get passed onto the renter. Your rental agreement may protect you from rent increases for a specific contractual period of time, usually either for 6 or 12 months from the date of signing depending on the terms. At some point, however, your landlord has the… Read more »

Greg Strandberg
Guest

My rent went up by $10 a month this year.

Why should I be concerned about that? After all, it isn’t that much.

I’d like to add that before all this water lawsuit stuff started, my rent/water bill probably wouldn’t have gone up at all.

Pete Talbot
Guest
Pete Talbot

I doubt that your $10/mo. rent increase was related to Mtn. Water lawsuits, Greg. Mtn. Water or its new owner, Liberty Utilities, haven’t requested any rate hikes (yet).

S. P. Royce
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S. P. Royce

Hi Greg, I understand your point of view. Since you don’t own you do not see changes in a black and white way. But consider that your landlord has an investment in the property you occupy. Managing renters is a job, sometimes not an easy one. So, your landlord (or lady) needs to see a return on his/her investment that exceeds the interest earned in other investments that require no time or energy. Otherwise selling the property to someone else becomes the best option. When a rental property is sold, a number of possibilities exist for the tenant: 1) The… Read more »

Greg Strandberg
Guest

So let’s say my rent goes up by $20 a month. That’s now $240 a year I have to pay extra. Hm, doesn’t really seem that much, not at $20 a month. But I suppose that’s the same argument property tax payers make when they have to pay an extra $12.33 for some bond. In the Missoulian comments, for instance, I see lots of people complain about property taxes. I rarely see anyone complain about rent. Renters don’t complain – who would care? Is their rent going to be lowered? No. We have no power. One way we do have… Read more »

Geoff Badenoch
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Geoff Badenoch

The profits any privately held utility earns are approved by the Montana Public Service Commission, therefore the PSC decides what profits the Liberty shareholders will be happy with. There may be a jillion reasons why the City or the private company should own the local water distribution system. Inflated, unwarranted costs, however, are not going to be inflicted on ratepayers without the approval of the Public Service Commission, a group of state officials elected by the people of Montana. Regardless of one’s position on the acquisition, it seems fair to keep this in mind.

Greg Strandberg
Guest

And if the PSC doesn’t approve rate increases…then what? I’m willing to bet a tax increase. That’s why they don’t need to turn a profit – the taxpayers are always there to bail them out. Look at our roads. The city can’t adequately take care of those now. How is it going to fix our water loss and pipe issue? Through bonds, that’s how. Where are people on fixed incomes supposed to get that extra money? Remember, many didn’t have a problem with their water or their water bill. The city changed that. Personally, I think Missoula is driving itself… Read more »

Pete Talbot
Guest
Pete Talbot

What a convoluted comment, Greg. I’ll start with this: the PSC doesn’t regulate publicly-held utilities. It’s up to the city, if it owns the water system, to set the rates. Since it doesn’t have to make a profit, one would guess that those rates would be lower than a privately-held utility. You say, “But just getting the water company wasn’t the idea, was it? No, we have to keep doing our tax and spend procedures.” The purchase of the water company by the city has nothing to do our “tax and spend procedures.” The reason the city wants to own… Read more »

Greg Strandberg
Guest

I know from my experiences at the Missoula City Council that the city isn’t accountable to anyone. Rate payers are taxpayers, or will be if the city gets the water company. I’m sure those rate payers/taxpayers want their roads fixed now, but it’s not being done. Personally, I don’t believe the city will be able to fix either the roads or the water system…unless it raises taxes a lot. In terms of the dole, I guess I’m talking about all the free housing that developers and landlords are complaining about. Wasn’t there a new one just set up recently? Maybe… Read more »

Pete Talbot
Guest
Pete Talbot

No, Rate payers are rate payers, Greg. And please tell me about all the developers and landlords complaining about “free housing.” First, if there’s all this free housing, there must be a glut of rentals on the market, which means that there’s competition for renters, i.e.: lower rents. I don’t believe this to be the case. BTW, the developers build the “free housing” along with their private developments, so I imagine they aren’t complaining. You seem to be fixated on roads. Having just finished a tour around the state, Missoula roads don’t seem to be in any worse shape than… Read more »

Greg Strandberg
Guest

I guess this discussion is over. Personally, I feel the belittling comments from the writers of this site turns people off. That’s just me. In regard to the developers, I’ve heard it in the Missoulian, I heard it at the Missoula Gianforte meeting this week. 6 days ago we had an article talking about new affordable housing downtown after a donation. Back in 2012 a 115-unit complex opened up. These are funded by the Missoula Housing Authority. In April of 2015 that organization got $4 million in federal tax credits. Great. Let’s forget the running of the national debt for… Read more »

Don Pogreba
Guest

I think you may want to revisit how supply and demand work.

John Kappes
Guest
John Kappes

Hello Pete, I was born, raised and educated in Missoula. For over 25 years I have been able to work for Mountain Water, a consciousness employer that has always worked to provide good, safe, clean water to this community. I feel it’s important to address some of the points you bring up here, in hopes that we can all engage on this complex issue in a fully informed way. • In no way are we intending to threaten our community. We are pointing out what it is going to cost for the city to take our system. City officials have… Read more »

Greg Strandberg
Guest

No one’s pockets are limitless. Can your company and those backing it financially hold out until the, what is it, 2017 mayoral elections? If so you could fund a candidate that would reverse this lawsuit. That’s the only leverage you’ve got, or am I wrong on that? Take out Engen and you’ve got this problem solved, don’t you? Put a successor in that doesn’t follow his crusade. How much would that cost you? You’ve run the numbers already, haven’t you? Someone has. I bet there’s a list of names, too. You wouldn’t have run those Indy ads this week if… Read more »

David
Guest
David

If Missoula owned the water system we’d see rates or tax increases or both. When Butte Silver Bow purchased it water system, it’s first order of business was to raise rates. The situation in Flint is one reason against city owned water systems.

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