Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Tester introduces bill opposing change to metro population size

by Nora Shelly

Montana’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester introduced legislation this week to prevent a change to the population requirements for metropolitan areas that could pose a problem Bozeman.

Earlier this year, the federal Office of Management and Budget released a proposal to increase the population threshold for an urban area to be considered a metropolitan from 50,000 to 100,000, which would kick two cities off the metro list and dim Bozeman’s hopes of ascending from a micropolitan area this year.

The metropolitan designation is used by federal agencies for funding allocations.

In a news release, Tester said the proposed change is “shortsighted.”

“As Montana works to recover from the pandemic – just as communities are rebuilding their economies and getting back on their feet – is the absolute worst time to force through a bureaucratic change that will take critical funding away,” Tester said.

Tester’s two-page bill proposes prohibiting the director of the Office of Management and Budget from raising the minimum urban area population to qualify as a metropolitan statistical area from 50,000 to 100,000.

According to the congressional legislation tracker, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Wednesday.

Bozeman is a micropolitan area, but the fast-growing city is expected to break the 50,000 population threshold with the 2020 census counts due to be released later this year.

Missoula and Great Falls would be demoted to micropolitan areas under the rule change.

Bozeman and state officials have voiced opposition to the proposed change.

Bozeman City Manager Jeff Mihelich said in March that the city has been planning on becoming a metropolitan area for years. The change could impact Bozeman’s ability to get funding for water, sewer and transportation infrastructure and affordable housing, Mihelich said.

Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus said in a statement Thursday said she supports Tester’s bill, and hopes it will “squash a confusing and poorly considered change.”

“Changing the qualification for a metropolitan statistical designation right now jeopardizes funding mechanisms that our growing city could benefit from,” Andrus said.

A spokesperson for U.S Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana said in a statement that Rosendale is concerned about the proposed rule and will “continue to monitor the situation.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, said the senator will review the bill and determine next steps.

Daines previously spoke out against the change and sent a letter to the agency in March.

“I urge you to not adopt this change and carefully consider what effect this will have on communities that are metropolitan centers by all reasonable measure,” Daines wrote in the letter. “Great Falls is a major agricultural hub, as well as being home to the main economic development and medical facilities in North Central Montana. In Western Montana, Missoula is a major financial and academic community that has grown substantially in recent years. Bozeman is one of the fastest growing micropolitan areas in the country.”