City of Browning’s Disincorporation Complicates Winter Storm Cleanup

Glacier County dips into own coffers to plow city streets

By Justin Franz
Browning City Hall on Jan. 27, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Last week’s massive winter storm wreaked havoc on nearly every community in Northwest Montana. But perhaps no municipality was challenged more than Browning.

That’s because the municipality is in the process of disincorporation, complicating basic tasks as simple as plowing. Now Glacier County is dipping into its own coffers to hire contractors to clear the streets.

In December 2015, the City of Browning announced it was on the verge of bankruptcy. At the time, the city council placed the blame on the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council for most of its struggles, specifically an ongoing legal battle over water and utility services. Tribal officials disputed those claims and said the town’s financial troubles were of its own creation.

In early 2016, the city council disbanded and employees were let go. The town was placed in receivership by the state and began the process of disincorporation. That process can take up to two years while the state-appointed receiver gathers the municipality’s assets and determines how much debt it owes. Current plans call on Glacier County to take over Browning and its services in 2018.

While the volunteer fire department has continued to work without interruption and sewage and water are under control of the tribe, services like plowing snow have fallen into limbo. Glacier County Commissioner Michael DesRosier said that became an issue in January following a big storm. With numerous vehicles stuck on side streets, the commission decided to dip into its own coffers and hire private contractors to clear the streets.

“It was an issue of safety and so we stepped up to help out,” DesRosier said. “Browning is not unincorporated yet but we’re basically treating it like it is now.”

DesRosier said the county spent about $27,000 on plowing in Browning in January and was expected to spend about the same last week when more than 3 feet of snow fell in as many days. It is unclear if the county will eventually be reimbursed for the plowing.

The commissioner said it was a necessary expense considering how much snow fell on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. East Glacier Park received 62 inches from Feb. 3–6 and St. Mary got 64 inches. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced a state of emergency in Glacier County, opening up emergency funding and the deployment of the National Guard to help with the cleanup.

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