Missoula’s mayor has the go-ahead to try to buy Mountain Water Company. In a meeting Monday council members voted 10 to 2 to give Mayor John Engen permission to negotiate with Mountain Water's current owner, the Carlyle Group.

Some residents say Missoula should own its water system, not an international investment group, while others argue buying the water company will be too expensive.
A recent analysis values the Mountain Water at roughly $50-70 million but some say that's just too much.

“I hope in my lifetime we can own our water but right now we just can't afford it,” said Missoula resident Peggy Cain.   

There are concerns that any agreement would increase taxes for residents already struggling to get by.

“If the costs go up -- you say not immediately, but they will go up -- how is this not going to hurt the low-income and middle-income people in Missoula?” asked one resident.    

The mayor says if Carlyle won't negotiate he will move to acquire the city's water system using eminent domain.

“Management of that resource, I believe, should not be in the province of a private corporation who is beholden to distant investors and stock holders but rather a public utility,” said Engen.  

Resident Peggy Cain argued back.    

“When condemnation was tried in 1982 it failed because there was no need and no necessity, and you have not proven any different now,” she said.    

Some who spoke Monday argue the city can do a better job managing Missoula’s water.

“I would feel more comfortable if the city was making our decisions and not deep-pocket businesses,” said UM student Kara Colovich.   

“It scares me that multi-national corporations are getting into water ownership in this country,” said one resident.   

Now that Engen has the go-ahead from the council he says the next step will be to find a definitive value for the utility and open talks with the Carlyle Group. Monday’s decision does not mean the city is buying Mountain Water, it only means the mayor can begin negotiations.

City officials tell me it could be weeks before Engen makes the Carlyle Group an offer.