MISSOULA — Missoula County expects to receive around $23 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan, though like the city and its $14 million, it’s still waiting for guidance from the federal government on how and where it can spend the revenue.
On Monday, Missoula Mayor John Engen said the city will explore particular uses of the funding over the coming months. Missoula County is taking a similar approach and hasn’t offered any details on possible uses of the funding.
Chris Lounsbury, the county’s chief administrative officer, said the funding would likely come in two installments.
“There’s still a lot that we don’t know,” Lounsbury said on Wednesday. “We will need to wait to see the guidance from the federal government before we can look at how we would want to spend it. Once we have the guidance, staff will work with the commissioners to identify priorities and allocate funding.”
Other cities are in the same boat, though some have named possible uses of the revenue. In Hartford, Connecticut, officials said they hope to direct the funding toward the recovery of businesses, arts and culture.
In Albany, the funding could aid in that city’s “Restart Albany” initiative by helping “stimulate economic activity that was lost as a result of this pandemic.”
Missoula County is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“Without guidance, I’m not sure we can identify specific projects at this point,” Lounsbury said. “But I think, like the city, we will be looking for opportunities to partner with the community to meet the needs of the pandemic.”
Engen suggested that the revenue will come with possible sideboards or limitations on where it can be directed at the local level. Still, he offered a few possible suggestions when announcing the city’s windfall.
“We will be working with Missoula County on any collaborative efforts and 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.”
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 lawmakers, who see it as a way to boost economic opportunities. But some have also named housing, infrastructure, child care and job training as possible funding targets.
“We can meaningfully invest in affordable housing to increase supply and reduce cost,” said Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena. “We can green-light the backlog of shovel-ready infrastructure projects that have been waiting funding. We can support Montana businesses by supporting Montana families.”
The city and county of Missoula sought a $23 million federal grant to place infrastructure in the Mullan area, but it received just $13 and is now looking for ways to make up the difference.
As a matter of comparison, the city alone will receive $14 million from the American Rescue Plan. Combined, the city and county could collect around $35 million in unexpected funding, which could finish the Mullan project.
It could also address other infrastructure needs, along with public transportation, housing and a range of other uses. But until the federal government releases the guidelines, suggestions, for now, are only that.
“We’re planning on putting this money to good use,” Engen assured. “Our intention is to get this money out the door as effectively as possible.”