A state judge has ordered the northern Montana town of Browning to turn over most of its assets to the Blackfeet Tribe to settle lawsuits between the two governments.
The settlement agreement, approved by District Judge James Reynolds last month, is part of Browning’s efforts to dissolve itself as a town.
Glacier County and the tribe will take over municipal services for Browning residents, including water, sewer and garbage services and fire protection. The Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will provide law enforcement, the Flathead Beacon reports.
The settlement calls for the town to hand over to the tribe all water and sewer infrastructure, water rights and other assets, including buildings, equipment, water storage tanks, town vehicles and fire engines along with road maintenance equipment.
The town of Browning announced in December 2015 that it was on the verge of bankruptcy. At the time, the city council blamed the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and disagreements over management of the water company that serves residents.
Tribal officials have said the town is responsible for its financial troubles.
The issue is complicated because the town has not performed annual audits as required under the state Constitution for the past several years, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.
A state-appointed receiver who has managed the town’s bills and handled other issues wrote in a report that the available town records “probably cannot be relied upon.”
The tribe sued the town, saying it was owed $2.6 million. Last month’s settlement addresses those claims. The tribe and its business arm are purchasing some town assets, which will give the town $650,000 to help settle other debts.
A group of residents have filed a lawsuit saying they made tax and utility payments and did not receive adequate services.
Under state law, a town council dissolves if it fails to meet for two years. The Browning town offices closed on Feb. 1, 2016.
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