The state’s local finance board is scheduled today to give its blessings to the city to dissolve the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA). The board is set to discuss the matter in its meeting this afternoon.
The state mandated the city to dissolve the authority in its 2014 memorandum of understanding, conditions that come attached with state aid, calling the agency an “unneeded layer of government,” whose functions can easily be folded into the city government.
Since then, the city at first entertained the idea of dissolving the agency, but later abandoned it altogether. The former administration of mayor Jeffery Jones planned to preserve the agency by submitting a plan to the state which would give the city council more oversight over the agency’s operations.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration reversed course and decided to dissolve the agency.
The mandate came about after the agency was caught in several controversies, where it had unscrupulously spent funds: providing money to purchase plane tickets for then mayor and the agency’s chairman Erik Lowe. The agency also funneled roughly $5,000 to a politically connected local church whose congregants were on the agency’s board.
Established in June 29th, 1981, the agency has a great deal of assets under its control which will be taken over by the city. The city will take ownership over properties owned by the agency including the Overlook Park and the Mary Ellen Kramer Park located around the Great Falls National Park. The city will also take ownership over the hydroelectric plant that is located at the foot of the falls, according to city officials.
Upkeep of the park and properties belonging to the agency will be undertaken by the city’s public works department, according to officials. After the board’s approval, the council is set to approve the ordinance dissolving the 33-year-old agency during its next regular meeting.
Following a hearing on Wednesday afternoon, the board decided to hold back on a decision until further review. “As is the case with all proposals to the Local Finance Board for dissolution of authorities,” said Tammori Petty, spokesperson for the state’s department of community affairs, “testimony was taken from advocates and opponents and action was deferred pending a review of the full record.”