Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Voters across Missoula County in June will vote for or against a study that could prompt changes to the form and structure of local government, or maintain the status quo.

In accordance with state law, Missoula County commissioners voted last week to place the question on the June ballot and the City Council will do the same in the coming weeks.

“You’re required to place this question on the ballot every 10 years,” said county CAO Chris Lounsbury.

While the structure of Missoula County government is similar to other counties across the state, with its three elected commissioners, the City of Missoula has a number of differences.

Among them, Missoula has a “strong arm” mayor, not a city manager like many other cities. Missoula also claims the largest City Council in the state. It’s 12 members represent six different wards and, given the number of members, hearings and debates can last for hours.

“We’re voting to put (the question) on the ballot, which we have to do,” said City Council president Amber Sherrill. “We’ll consider how much money we would allot to this if the voters said yes. How many commissioners we would have doing the study? And if the voters do say yes, then everyone starts running for these positions.”

Missoula County allocated $200,000 to the study per year, or around 0.5 mills. It also said its side of the local study would consist of three commissioners. The city will make similar choices on cost and numbers.

Under state law, the resolution must specify the number of members to be elected to the commission, along with the dollar amount, or number of mills that will be levied to fund the study.

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

Once the study is completed and the recommendations are tendered, then voters again would consider adopting the recommendations.

“It’s a long process,” said Sherrill. “If they say yes and want the government study, then people will start campaigning for the November ballot to be a commissioner. Then the study starts.”

The commission’s recommendations must be given to voters by the General Election in 2026, according to state law. Changes could also include “general powers” of local government, “self governing powers” and charter, among other things.

“I don’t know what all the possible options are. They’ll make whatever recommendations they make,” said Sherrill.

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