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Huckleberries 2 STK
Roman Nerud

Resolute huckleberries to Missoula City Councilman Jesse Ramos, who represents Ward 4, for pushing for greater transparency concerning the city’s ongoing legal battles over the utility formerly known as Mountain Water Company. Rebranded Missoula Water Company after the city’s successful condemnation, the utility continues to be the subject of ongoing argument for attorneys.

Just this week, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a decision in Missoula’s favor in determining that the city does not have to pay interest for the period in which the utility was under condemnation proceedings, a ruling that lets Missoula off the hook for an additional $25 million or more. However, a former owner of the utility, the Carlyle Group, is appealing in a separate case that is currently awaiting action by the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the city’s legal expenses, which are paid by Missoula Water ratepayers, have topped $9 million.

While privy to these invoices himself as a member of city council, Ramos has repeatedly called on the city to release the financial details of its legal bills to the public, including a breakdown of exactly how much money is charged for certain services. Mayor John Engen and certain city council members say this information cannot be made public yet because it is privileged and doing so could jeopardize the city’s case in court. Kudos to Ramos for challenging the city’s explanation and for being such a staunch advocate of the public’s right to know.

Sandbags filled with chokecherries to the still-rising waters that have flooded neighborhoods in the Missoula Valley and around Seeley Lake, requiring mandatory evacuations of dozens of homes. Missoula County officials told the residents in the Orchard Homes area on Tuesday to leave their homes and not to return until the danger has passed. Some had already started evacuating last weekend, and with flood levels expected to peak Friday, they may not be able to return for some time yet. In the meantime, the American Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter and the United Way of Missoula County is working with the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management on a new fund to help homeowners affected by the flooding.

Huckleberry welcome mats for the Missoula Housing Authority for its latest, greatest project to build a 200-unit complex of affordable apartments in Missoula’s Northside. The $36.5 million development will offer units with two to four bedrooms for qualifying residents who make significantly less than the area median income. While the project, which has been years in the planning and which could very well be the biggest of its kind in the state, will not solve Missoula’s housing affordability problem on its own, it promises to take a significant bite out of it.

A pittance of chokecherries to the recent budget cuts made to the foster grandparent program that covers six western Montana counties. The Western Montana Area VI Agency of Aging, which operates the Foster Grandparent Program locally, makes is possible for about 40 foster grandparents to help youth become happier, healthier members of their communities. In exchange, foster grandparents receive a mere $2.65 an hour, plus meals and mileage. Unfortunately, due to state budget cuts, the 20-year-old program is weathering a total $34,000 in cuts for the fiscal biennium. At the same time, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which includes about 300 volunteers, is being eliminated at the end of June.

Restored huckleberries to the welcome news that the Secure Rural Schools program has finally been reauthorized after expiring in 2015, allowing the U.S. Forest Service to release more than $17 million in payments to Montana counties in compensation for the revenue lost to declining timber production. Missoula County, for one, will receive about $684,000; Ravalli County will receive nearly $996,000 and Lincoln County will get more than $4 million. The money will go directly to help shore up funding for schools, emergency services and basic infrastructure.

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