-Martin Kidston reporting for the Missoula Current
MISSOULA – The Missoula City Council adopted a new annexation policy on Monday night, marking the first time it has detailed its desires around growth while providing efficient use of city services across the expanding metro area.
As adopted, the policy considers a number of factors, including the need for orderly development, the efficient use of public services and the equal sharing of resources.
“This a policy. It’s not a dictum or requirement,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “It provides guidance where we really haven’t had guidance before. What we have now are sideboards from a more granular policy perspective.”
Calling it a policy and not a plan, senior city planner Tom Zavitz said the new document sets guidelines for future annexation, most of which happen at the request of residents or developers looking to join the city.
The policy isn’t intended to set forth rules but rather, to “provide health, safety and general welfare through orderly development.”
“That’s through the efficient provision of public services and utilities,” said Zavitz. “Annexations unite and create an effective community government. What’s most important are the equal sharing of resources and costs.”
Council members Jesse Ramos, Julie Armstrong and Michelle Cares were absent from Monday’s meeting. The City Council doesn’t meet next week.
Citing equity issues, the city recently annexed 3,200 acres west of Reserve Street to guide future growth in the rapidly evolving urban fringe. Most of those in the area were already receiving city services and had waived their opportunity to protest the move.
Missoula County Commissioners have expressed satisfaction with the city’s efforts to adopt the policy as a means to inform future growth. The new policy could also see both governments work more closely together on issues surrounding urban planning and development.
“We have to have guidelines. We need to have criteria,” said Zavitz. “We want to have statements that say this is the kind of city we are, this is the kind of city we want to become. These are the goals and aspersions for our preferred annexations if we were to do them.”
Engen said many of the statements within the new policy are already items considered in decisions made by the city.
“This is an effort in transparency to deliver some degree of consistency,” the mayor said. “We consider almost everything that’s a function of this policy informally today. This policy makes it clear that we will consider these things as a function of any proposed annexation.”