City plans task force to streamline Missoula’s share of rescue plan spending

Missoula County expects to receive $23 million from the latest relief act while the city will net around $14.1 million. But other local agencies will receive funding as well, and coordinating efforts will help ensure a wide variety of needs are met. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

City and county officials in Missoula plan to establish a community task force to ensure local agencies, combined with local government, don’t duplicate efforts when stretching their share of funding from the American Rescue Plan.

Missoula County expects to receive $23 million from the latest relief act while the city will net around $14.1 million. But other local agencies will receive funding as well, and coordinating efforts will help ensure a wide variety of needs are met.

“We’re trying to create a framework for how we deploy rescue act funds and how we collaborate,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “One of the critical issues we heard about, given all the funds that will be flowing to communities and not just to local government, is that coordination is going to be critical.”

Engen this week said he will propose “in short order” that the city establish a community task force around the American Rescue Plan. The task force would likely include the county as well, along with representatives from various organizations.

The funding represents a rare opportunity to address a range of needs, and Engen said the city must be intentional in its plans.

“We need to make sure we’re not duplicating efforts, and make sure we have the right organizations use their resource to solve problems,” Engen said. “We need to make sure spending is aligned with community needs as articulated in a variety of ways.”

The city and county will receive a combined $35 million, though the U.S Department of Treasury hasn’t announced guidelines on how or where the funding can be deployed.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said the county has listed around $100 million in projects that could benefit from the funding. The projects range from a long-planned sewer system in Seeley Lake to improvements to the wastewater treatment facility in Lolo.

“We’re in the process of similarly coming up with what bucket the money would be within,” Strohmaier said. “Getting more guidance from Treasury on how we could deploy these funds would be useful. This task force is perhaps a means to collaborate, and that could be a good thing.”

State lawmakers also are exploring uses of the revenue. The state will receive around $2.7 billion, giving what several lawmakers are describing as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to move Montana forward.

Bringing broadband to parts of the state has emerged as an early favorite among some lawmakers who see it as a way to boost economic opportunity. But others have named housing, infrastructure, child care and job training as possible funding targets.

The Legislature is still working to determine how and where the funding can be used. Along the way, some odd limitations have been proposed. They include withholding federal funding from Montana cities that have stricter Covid rules in place than the state’s rules.

Lawmakers may also decide to require any city our county to come up with matching funds when accessing the state’s share of federal funding.

“We’re not sitting on mountains of cash waiting to be deployed for a match,” said Strohmaier. “It’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy if they put match requirements on that which we’ve not budgeted for.”

The federal government is expected to announce guidelines around the funding in early June. That gives the city and county time to be proactive, according to Dale Bickell, the city’s chief administrative officer.

“We have our direct allocations as part of ARPA, but there’s all the other buckets that will be distributed by the state, whether they’re on a competitive basis or not,” he said. “Missoula has been competitive when seeking funds in the past. We need to be ready and set the stage to continue to be competitive.”