A judge has ordered the Town of Browning to hand over most of its assets to the Blackfeet Tribe in order to settle a number of lawsuits between the two governments. The order comes as Browning disincorporates itself after its city government collapsed amid widespread financial troubles.
On Aug. 29, Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge James P. Reynolds approved a settlement agreement between the town and the tribe. The settlement will help cover a portion of the more than $2.6 million the town owes the tribe.
In December 2015, the Town 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.
The settlement agreement that was authored in June calls for Browning to hand over to the tribe all water and sewer infrastructure; road and sidewalk infrastructure; water rights; and other miscellaneous assets, including buildings, land, vehicles and equipment (which includes everything from a plow truck to a printer). The judge also ordered the town to transfer ownership of an emergency generator and a piece of land to Browning Public Schools to cover debts owed to that organization as well.
Since Browning’s town government shut down in 2016, water, sewer and garbage services have been taken over by the tribe. Glacier County now handles fire services and plowing. The Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services and the Bureau of Indian Affairs now primarily do law enforcement in Browning town limits.
Earlier this year, Glacier County had to dip into its own coffers to plow Browning’s streets after a number of storms left the town essentially buried. Officials hope to avoid that situation this year.