KBZK: Montana leaders continue to fight against size increase for 'metropolitan' status

by Gaby Krevat

What might sound like a procedural, bureaucratic change of rules is actually a very big deal for elected leaders in a few small cities in Montana and across the entire country.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is considering a change that would increase the size of a metropolitan statistical area from 50,000 residents to 100,000.

Here in Bozeman, where the 2020 census is expected to show a population exceeding 50,000 people, local leaders now fear it could mean missing out on some much-needed and anticipated federal dollars.

“Imagine that you’ve always wanted to ride a rollercoaster. Since 1950 the sign has always said you have to be 4 feet tall in order to do that. You finally get to 4 feet tall, you go there and all of a sudden they say, no, no you’ve gotta be 6 feet tall. That’s how we feel here in Bozeman,” said Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham.

He describes the possible rule change as disappointing and frustrating.

“So essentially what we’re doing is we’re missing out on much-needed funds and coordination for important things like housing and transportation and healthcare, as well. It has a ripple effect throughout the entire community.”

That’s why U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced legislation to prevent that from happening. It’s a bill called the Metropolitan Statistical Area Stabilization Act.

“I dropped this legislation in so they knew we were in this fight for real,” said Sen. Tester.

“We have visited with the folks at OMB, we have told them that this is not a good real change and that they need to pull back on it and go back to the 50,000 people level.”

Senator Tester says plain and simple: places like Great Falls and Missoula, which have relied on grant funding for programs, could be cut off, and places like Bozeman denied before they even could have the chance.

“This is not good for rural America,” Tester added. “Let’s just put it that way. If we start taking away opportunities to get funding to improve these communities, it’s going to impact growth, it’s going to impact economic opportunity. And that’s a bad thing for the entirety of Montana.”

Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) has also expressed concerns about the OMB proposal, writing Rob Fairweather, OMB acting director, in March to highlight the impact the change would have on Montana cities.

“The implications of this shift would be significant, as up to half of the federal funding these cities normally receive would be redirected,” Daines wrote. “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.”

Tester says he’s hopeful the Office of Management and Budget will rescind the rule change. But if not, now there’s a bill to try and stop it.

“It would be much easier for them to just do the right thing rather than expect Congress to act. But nonetheless, we’re ready to go. If they’re not gonna do it, we will,” said Tester.