After an attempt to preserve the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) following state’s demand to end its existence, city officials have changed course introducing a plan to abolish the agency.
The plan calls for all functions of the agency to be undertaken by the city’s public works department.
“Does the DPW [Department of Public Works] have the acting staff to address some of these issues as far as services and maintenances is concerned?” asked Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, during a discussion of the plan on Tuesday.
“Yes we do have the necessary staff,” responded mayor Jose “Joey” Torres. The mayor said the authority is responsible for the upkeep of Mary Ellen Kramer Park and the Overlook Park both of which can be maintained by the city’s public works department.
With the dissolution of the authority, which was established on June 29th, 1981 through a city council ordinance, the city will also have to handle the regular maintenance of the Society for the Establishing Useful Manufactures (S.U.M) building on McBride Avenue, said Torres.
All assets and properties of the authority will also transfer over to the city once the council approves an ordinance dissolving the authority. A contract — expiring on March 10th, 2021 — the authority has with the Great Falls Hydro Electric Company, the firm that operates the hydroelectric plant near the Great Falls National Park, will be transferred over to the city.
Rents, funds, and other assets in possession of the authority will be redirected to the city’s finance department, according to the draft ordinance dissolving the agency. The monies will be added to the city’s general revenue fund.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, asked how much debt the authority currently has. Domenick Stampone, city’s law director, said the agency’s assets are greater than its liabilities.
The dissolution of the agency was stipulated in the 2014 memorandum of understanding between the state and the city. The memorandum described the agency as, “an unneeded layer of government that addresses functions that could be undertaken by the City without the additional expenses associated with that government authority.”
Chairman of the authority Erik Lowe said he did not receive any official communication from city officials on actually dissolving the authority. “It’s the mayor’s prerogative and the city council’s prerogative to entertain a conversation about dissolving the MUA,” said Lowe,”but as far as I know and my fellow commissioners and our lawyer are concerned, we have not heard anything from the mayor or the city council in regards to this ordinance.”
Lowe said last he heard the city was proposing an alternative to dissolving the agency. Business administrator Charles Thomas in April said he was hoping to preserve the authority.
However, with a new administration the course appears to have shifted during the interregnum. Whereas under mayor Jeffery Jones, who is a friend of Lowe’s, the city wanted to conserve the agency, but under Torres the policy is, abolishment.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, concurred with the state’s observation. “I think it fits very well into DPW,” said McKoy. “Most of the functions that they do can be carried out by DPW very easily.”