Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Voters in the city and county of Missoula this June will consider a question that comes up every 10 years: Do they want a commission to study local government to recommend any changes?

Members of the City Council on Wednesday set the number of potential commissioners at seven and allocated up to $200,000 to conduct the study, so long as voters opt to move forward with the process in June.

“The Montana Constitution requires that all local governments present this opportunity to review their form of government to the voters every 10 years,” said City Clerk Claire Trimble. “We’re all doing this across the state at the same time.”

State law requires the ballot measure to specify the number of members to be elected to the commission, along with the dollar amount. Missoula County in January also allocated $200,000 to the study and set its number of commissioners at three.

If voters in Missoula and Missoula County vote yes to the study in June, then candidates would run on the November ballot to serve as a commissioner. The body of elected commissioners would then “examine the government” and submit recommendations on any changes to the voters.

“They have to create a report and present that report to the electorate to vote on,” said Trimble. “We’d have another ballot measure, and voters get to decide if they want to follow the recommendations of the commission.”

If approved by voters, the commission could review a range of issues including the number of city councilors, the number of wards, if city councilors at large are needed, or whether the city should be led by a strong mayor or a city administrator. It would also explore similar issues at the county.

Voters in Missoula in 2004 approved the formation of a commission, comprised of seven members, to study local government. But when the commission offered recommended changes to Missoula government, voters said no.

Ten years later in 2014, voters said no to the formation of a commission. Now that the City Council has agreed to the potential number of commissioners and approved up to $200,000 to conduct the study, voters will again decide this summer, as per the Montana Constitution.

“Having that larger (funding) buffer is important,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “Any shortfall, if we were not to fully fund it, would come out of our general fund.”

Council member Sandra Vasecka said she gets asked on a regular basis why the Missoula City Council has 12 members. It’s the largest city council in the state of Montana.

“I think people these days are way more interested in local government than they were 10 years ago,” she said.

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