City of Missoula to receive $14.1M in relief funding; spending it remains uncertain ~ Missoula Current

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Missoula at night from the North Hills. City Mayor John Engen said uses of $14 million in unexpected federal funding will be determined over the coming months and years. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The City of Missoula will receive around $14 million in federal funding from the latest stimulus package, though determining where to place the windfall to achieve the greatest long-term good – and to benefit the greatest number of residents – will take time.

In Monday’s announcement, Missoula Mayor John Engen didn’t mention property tax relief or job creation as a potential use of the unexpected federal funding, though he did mention social services and “equity” as a potential target.

“We have begun to discuss at the administrative level what this means,” Engen said on Monday night. “There are sideboards on the funds. The Department of Treasury is working on guidelines.”

Engen said the particular uses of the funding will be determined over the coming months and years. The state will also received around $3 billion, and discussions on how and where to direct it has already begun in the Legislature.

For now, the state is looking to use a portion of the revenue to expand high-speed broadband across portions of Montana as part of a larger infrastructure effort. Engen said the city will work over the coming months to explore ways to disperse its $14 million in funding.

The mayor called it good but complicated news.

“We will be working with Missoula County as well on any collaborative efforts on any opportunities we simply hadn’t imagined before these resources became available,” Engen said. “We are very interested in the human service component of this and looking at opportunities there and in equity. More to come in that regard.”

Naming human services and equity was the only card Engen showed while revealing the funding. However its directed will involve public input and City Council consideration, he said.

Missoula Mayor John Engen.

“We’re planning on putting this money to good use and will be seeking Council approval for that as we move forward,” Engen said. “This money doesn’t need to be expended until 2024. Our intention is to get this money out the door as effectively as possible.”

At the stale level, funding from the latest and past relief acts must be spent on specific programs, though a portion of the funding is open to however lawmakers – and city leaders – see fit.

At the state level, water, sewer and broadband infrastructure projects are allowed and are high on the radar. It’s unknown if the same holds true at the city level, though Engen said those details would be revealed in the coming days and weeks.

And because the state will likely allocate a portion of its funding to local communities for infrastructure work, it’s important that the city doesn’t duplicate state efforts, Engen said.

“We would imagine based on some preliminary conversations that the state would be looking at opportunities in communities like Missoula to put this money to work around infrastructure,” Engen said. “There are so may components to the act and so many other recipients in the community that we want to make sure we’re not duplicating efforts or in some way leaving programs and opportunities unfunded or unconsidered.”