Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

With the new legislative sessions rapidly approaching and a number of significant issues at stake, the Missoula City Council this week notched an agreement with a lobbyist to represent its interests in Helena.

On a 7-1 vote, the council approved a $38,000 agreement with Central House Strategies to represent the city's priorities during the 2023 session, which begins in January. The same firm is representing the city of Bozeman.

“Each year for the Legislature, we do hire a lobbyist based in Helena,” said Jessica Miller, the city's citizens services manager. They can attend meetings that city staff cannot attend, and they have good relationships with the legislators themselves and know who we can talk to about which things and when we need amendments.”

For years the city has paid a lobbyist to represent its interests in Helena. In recent years, that lobbyist has been John McDonald, though he retired and has subcontracted with Central House Strategies.

Council said local representation is important during the session to track bills and to represent the city's priorities, such as housing and tax reform, along with other issues. Taxation is expected to play a major role in next year's Legislature.

The lobbyist also coordinates with local legislators, other cities and the Montana League of Cities and Towns.

“I think it's important for the City of Missoula to have a full-time presence in the Legislature,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “We need to look at how we do taxation in Montana differently. There will be various bills that come up in the session that effect that. We represent a good portion of the state population and it's important for us to have someone there.”

Before the session convenes, the City Council will meet with Missoula-area legislators to discuss priorities and potential strategies. The lobbyist plays an additional role in representing the city's interests.

Council member Sandra Vasecka voted against the contract.

“I don't think government lobbying government is best practice,” Vasecka said.