Federal agency drops plan to change city population size designation

Cities in Montana, such as Great Falls, will maintain their metropolitan statistical area designation, the Office of Management and Budget said July 13.

Earlier this year, the agency had proposed to raise the population threshold of the MSA to 100,000, from its current 50,000 threshold, which would have impacted Great Falls, Missoula and Bozeman. The MSA is used by many federal agencies and programs to determine federal funding allocations for housing, healthcare, COVID relief and more.

Montana’s congressional delegation raised concern about the change and both Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines sent letters and proposed legislation to stop the change.

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“Montana communities depend on certainty and reliable funding to thrive, and a shortsighted bureaucratic change like this is the last thing cities like Great Falls, Missoula, and Bozeman needed as they work to get back on their feet after the pandemic,” Tester said in a release. “I’m glad OMB listened to me and the many voices who pushed back against this poorly conceived proposal, and I will continue fighting to make sure cities and towns across our state have the resources they need to provide critical services, create jobs, and come out strong on the other side of this crisis.”

In a release, Daines said, “’m glad to see the Biden administration listen to my request and rollback their proposal to change city size designations that would have robbed Bozeman, Missoula and Great Falls of critical resources. This is great news for our Montana communities.”

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Great Falls receives significant federal funding through the Community Development Block Grant and HOME program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; as well as firefighter grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and law enforcement funding through the U.S. Department of Justice, among other funding programs. The city is receiving nearly $30 million in various COVID relief funds.

“Like many communities, Great Falls relies on federal funding to support our schools, firefighters and first responders, and health care workers – especially as we build back following the pandemic – but this proposed rule change put those funds in jeopardy, and would have been devastating for our community,” Mayor Bob Kelly said in a release.

The OMB said that “recognizing the committee’s concern that MSA thresholds have not kept pace with population growth, OMB will work with the Standards Review Committee to conduct research and stakeholder outreach to inform the 2030 standards update.”