Affordable housing and nonprofit assistance are top priorities in the Missoula community

Missoula County should prioritize increasing affordable housing for all and assisting nonprofits that provide public services, according to the results of a recent survey on community needs.

The Community and Planning Services Grants and Community Programs Division conducted an annual community needs assessment to gauge the community’s interests and funding priorities. The needs assessment was the first step in determining how to effectively use potential state and federal funds and to ensure that community development projects reflect community needs.

The following priorities were established through an online survey and virtual meeting.

  • The top two actions Missoula County should prioritize overall:
    • Increase housing that is affordable for all
    • Assist nonprofits that provide public services
  • Top two priorities for housing initiatives:
    • Support initiatives to maintain and/or increase affordable housing
    • Down payment assistance for low- and moderate-income homebuyers
  • Top two homelessness priorities:
    • Mental health and substance abuse services
    • Increased supply of permanent supportive housing
  • Top two strategies for increased economic development:
    • Increase the supply of housing that is affordable to the workforce
    • Job training and opportunities for at-risk populations (e.g. prisoner, re-entry, homeless, recovery, etc.)
  • Top two public infrastructure priorities:
    • Broadband internet coverage and access
    • Bike lanes and trails and streets and roads
  • Top two community facility needs:
    • Mental health center
    • Emergency housing facility (youth, domestic violence survivors, homeless individual/families)
  • Top two public services priorities:
    • Mental health services
    • Homelessness services including prevention
  • Top two priorities for COVID-19-related assistance:
    • Emergency rental assistance payment for low-to moderate-income households impacted by COVID-19
    • Financial assistance for small business owners

Every year, Missoula County conducts a community needs assessment to prepare for the release of federal funding opportunities, namely Home Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grants and Brownfield Assessment Grants. This assessment addresses the public participation requirement of the federal funding application process and is used to identify funding priorities in the county.

Missoula County competes with other Montana counties and communities for CDBG funding, which is awarded to the State of Montana from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. Missoula County has secured CDBG funding to partially support the construction costs of the Poverello Center and the new YWCA Family Housing Center on Third Street, soon to be known as the Meadowlark. State CDBG funding also partially funded the updated wastewater system in East Missoula and an updated wastewater system for the resident-owned Buena Vista trailer court near the Missoula International Airport. Furthermore, the county has a CDBG housing repair grant for eligible households to support the costs of repairs needed due to health or safety concerns.

An artist rendering of the new YWCA Family Housing Center on Third Street, soon to be known as the Meadowlark.

The Missoula County Brownfields Assessment Program is just getting off the ground. This grant from the Environmental Protection Agency provides funding for phase I and phase II environmental assessments on properties where its expansion, redevelopment or reuse is complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. The grant also supports cleanup and redevelopment planning. Nearly every community in Montana has brownfield sites. Left untouched, a brownfield can pose insurmountable environmental, legal and public and private investment challenges. The grant is earmarked for properties outside of city limits; however, all potential properties would be considered.

This year’s assessment included an online survey distributed to Missoula County residents from June 3 – 17 through email, social media and ads in the Missoulian and Seeley Swan Pathfinder. The survey included questions about Missoula County’s housing, public services, public infrastructure, economic development and COVID-19 response and recovery. Staff received 207 responses. In addition to the online survey, Grants and Community Program staff conducted a virtual meeting seeking additional community feedback on June 25.  Representatives of Missoula service agencies and 13 community members attended the meeting.

Staff presented information on the assessment to the Missoula County commissioners on July 7, and it will be compiled into a final report that includes the survey results, meeting minutes and public comment. This report is a required component of federal and state grant applications, which are due in September; interested parties can contact the Grants and Community Planning staff to learn more.

To view the presentation, go to www.missoulacounty.us/grants and click on Community Needs Assessment.  

Missoula County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council lands grant for mobile crisis team

The Missoula County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has received a $125,000 grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services to fund a mobile crisis team to respond to calls for people in mental health crisis instead of law enforcement or other first responders.

The grant will help fund a 10-month pilot project, which will create a team of two mental health professionals with basic medical training to assess and assist a person in crisis, and a peer-support specialist and/or case manager to ensure the person receives follow-up treatment and mental health services. Missoula County and the City of Missoula will provide matching funding, which, coupled with other grant funds received earlier this year, totals $380,000 to get a mobile crisis team up and running. Data from the pilot project will be used to inform future funding decisions.

“Having a mobile crisis team in Missoula County has been a need for a long time,” said Kristen Jordan, CJCC manager. “There is tremendous support for the implementation of this mobile crisis team from our community, our first responders and law enforcement and our Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.”

Mobile crisis teams reduce jail bookings and emergency room visits, decrease arrests and prosecutions, and allow for more appropriate use of law enforcement and first responder time. Research shows that every dollar spent on mobile crisis saves $5 to $7 elsewhere in the mental health and criminal justice systems.

Having a mobile crisis response team will allow people to call 9-1-1 and have a mental health team dispatched to the scene, independent of law enforcement or first responder presence. The county will contract with a mental health provider to deliver mobile crisis services through an RFP process expected to start next week. The goal is to have the mobile crisis team active by September.

Status of Missoula County operations amid COVID-19

Last updated Nov. 19, 2020

With the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, some Missoula County offices have delayed plans to reopen further or have returned to working remotely. 

Below are details for public-facing Missoula County departments. While the Missoula County courthouse remains open to the public, in-person services vary by department.

Clerk and Treasurer’s Office, Missoula County Courthouse First Floor, 200 W. Broadway 

  • The office is closed to public entrance. This includes motor vehicle registration, renewals and transfers, property tax payments or changes, and requests for birth certificates and other records. 
  • Customers are encouraged to complete services online at missoulaclerk.us whenever possible.  

Clerk of Court’s Office, Courthouse Second Floor 

  • The office is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with limited staff. 
  • In-person services will be by appointment-only by calling 406-258-4780.  
  • Residents with questions about jury service are encouraged to email clerkofcourt@missoulacounty.us if possible. They can also call 406-258-4780 but should expect longer than usual wait times as the county continues to experience a large volume of calls.  
  • The office requests no more than one person to attend an appointment but will make accommodations for marriage license applicants to appear together. 
  • A maximum of three people will be allowed in the customer service area at a time. 
  • Those with appointments should call 406-258-4780 from outside the clerk’s office while maintaining a 6-foot distance from others. Once admitted they must maintain physical distancing of 6 feet in the customer service area. Tape markings on the floor will indicate 6-foot distancing. 
  • A cloth face covering is required for all customers. Disposable masks available upon request. 
  • Hand sanitizer will be available for customers, and staff will wipe down pens, counters and other items between customers. 
  • Only one person will be allowed in the public search area at a time. Customers should call 406-258-4780 to schedule an appointment. 
  • Marriage applicants may continue to apply for marriage licenses online, without an in-person visit. 
  • Self-represented litigants are encouraged to continue to submit paperwork by email, fax, mail or drop box. The regular fee for email/fax will be waived. 
  • Attorneys in cases not yet available for e-filing are encouraged to continue to submit pleadings by email, fax, mail or drop box. The regular fee for email/fax will be waived. 
  • Email: clerkofcourt@missoulacounty.us 
  • Fax: 406-258-4899 

Commissioners’ Office, 199 W. Pine St. 

  • Commissioners continue to hold their public meetings virtually via Teams. 
  • The public can check the commissioners’ schedule at www.missoulacounty.us for information ahead of each upcoming public meeting. 
  • Staff check email, mail and voicemail each day. 

Community and Planning Services127 E. Main St. 

  • Beginning Wednesday, Nov. 4, the Community and Planning Services office will be closed to visitors, except those dropping off applications and other work-related materials. The front door will be unlocked so documents can be dropped off securely in the lobby area.
  • The reception and information desk staff will be available by phone and email from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday to field questions from the public about zoning, permits, land use, projects or plans and can be reached by phone at 406-258-4642 or email at zoner@missoulacounty.us.  
  • Meetings will be held virtually for the foreseeable future.
  • To make a virtual appointment call 406-258-4657 or visit www.missoulacounty.us/caps for additional information.
  • The department encourages the continued submission of documents and forms electronically when possible. 

County Attorney’s Office, Courthouse Fourth Floor 

  • Majority of employees returned to working remotely and can assist the public by phone, mail or email.  
  • In-person assistance is available by appointment/invitation only for purpose of trials, hearings and prep. 
  • Employees working in the office must practice physical distancing for any in-person meetings, including department meetings, public meetings, meetings with law enforcement, victims, witnesses, other attorneys, etc.  
  • Attorneys, court staff, law enforcement, witnesses, etc., may be allowed in the office if accompanied by an employee, necessary for trial or trial prep, and NOT exhibiting any symptoms.  
  • Anyone in the office must wear a face mask, adhere to strict social distancing guidelines and comply with check stations in place. It is required that employees wash hands/sanitize often.
  • Disposable face masks will be available for those who need one.   

Crime Victim Advocate Program, 317 Woody St. 

  • The office will be closed to walk-in and in-person services Monday, Oct. 26 thru Wednesday, Oct. 28.
  • Paperwork packets are available outside the office in a clear tote.
  • For assistance with protection orders via phone, call the main line at 406-258-3830.
  • If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1 or the 24-hour YWCA CRISIS HOTLINE at 800-483-7858.
  • Temporarily, advocates will not physically accompany clients to court appearances but are available via online platform, such as Zoom.
  • For general information, visit www.missoulacounty/cva 

District Court, Courthouse Second and Third Floors 

  • For a detailed list of procedures visit the District Court website. (District Court is a function of the state.)

Elections Center, 140 N. Russell St.  

  • The Elections Center will be open for the extended hours leading up to Election Day:  
    • Saturday, Oct. 24: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  
    • Monday-Friday, Oct. 26-30: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. 
    • Saturday, Oct. 31: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 
    • Monday, Nov. 2: 7 a.m. 7 p.m. 
    • Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.   

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula3400 Captain Rawn Way 

  • Due to the uptick in COVID cases, the main museum building will remain closed for general visitation through Thursday, Dec. 31.
  • Tours of the main museum building and galleries are available for small groups by appointment only. Please contact Education Director Kristjana Eyjolfsson at 406-258-3473.
  • Museum grounds are open, and the public is welcome.
  • Museum outbuildings will be closed for the winter beginning Monday, Nov. 2, and will re-open for Forestry Day on Saturday, April 24, 2021.   
  • The museum is no longer accepting book donations.  
  • Volunteer activities are currently on hold. 
  • The museum plans to resume all normal activities when the state enters Phase Three.  

Justice Court, Courthouse, First Floor 

  • All court hearings other than trials, order of protection hearings, and landlord/tenant possession hearings will be held by conference call or video. Parties should not appear in court unless a judge or clerk instructs them to. 
  • Anyone who receives a ticket should contact the clerk of court at 406-258-3470 to schedule an initial appearance. 
  • Anyone physically appearing in a courtroom must use cloth face coverings. The court will provide disposable masks for those unable to provide their own.  
  • The court is conducting both criminal and civil jury trials and requires advanced notice if a jury trial is going to be continued or vacated. Extra jury confirmation hearings will be held to ensure this.
  • The court is officiating weddings again under limited circumstances.  
  • Upon request, initial appearances, trials and other proceedings will be available to the public via Zoom.  
  • Justice Court offices are open to the public for fine payments and civil filings. 
  • Justice Court helpful links
  • Additional COVID-19 procedures

Missoula County Fairgrounds, 1101 South Ave. W. 

Missoula Public Library, 455 E. Main St.  

  • Curbside lending, online/virtual programming and reference services are available at the new building at 455 E. Main St.  
  • The opening date for the new building is to be determined.

Public Works, 6089 Training Drive 

  • Missoula County Public Works will transition to online-only permitting beginning Wednesday, Nov. 4, and the building will be closed to public access. Public Works will operate permitting in this fashion until the risk of COVID-19 is significantly reduced or eliminated. Permitting services are available online at www.missoulacounty.build. The public is encouraged to use the online services or call staff at 406-258-3701. Pick-up and drop-off boxes are available for coordinated plan drop-off and pick-up and are located outside the front door of the main office at 6089 Training Drive in Missoula.
  • Public Works inspections will continue in person, per usual operations, but may be re-evaluated to determine if changes are necessary to reduce risk. Inspectors will wear face coverings during inspections unless they have requested an accommodation as allowed under the state and local orders. For additional protection of both inspectors and homeowners, homeowners present during inspections will be asked to wear face coverings and maintain a 6-foot distance for the duration of the inspection. To limit the inspector’s time inside the home, discussions between the inspector and the homeowner will be held outside or via phone. On-site customers and contractors are strongly encouraged to wear appropriate personal protective equipment during the inspection and follow social distancing guidelines. To schedule an inspection, contact staff at 406-258-3701.
  • The Seeley Lake office will remain open to the public by appointment only. To make an appointment, contact the Seeley Lake inspector by calling 406-396-8148.
  • The Surveyors Office is closed to the public but is providing service online. Contact Steve Niday with any questions at sniday@missoulacounty.us.
  • Road crew employees are considered a part of the essential workforce because they take care of public infrastructure, so they will work their regular seasonal hours of Monday through Thursday. Road and engineering office staff will work remotely and will reply to all emails and voicemails as they are able. Please call 406-258-4753 or email the general email box at mcpw@missoulacounty.us.
  • Sewer and water services will continue with services as normal, but staff ask that people wear face coverings and maintain a 6-foot distance when in the presence of personnel performing these essential services.

Sheriff’s Office, Courthouse Second Floor

  • Residents are asked to call and make an appointment to speak with a deputy or detective regarding a non-emergent matter, to speak to administrative staff or about all concealed weapon permit applications. Appointments can be made by calling 406-258-4810. 
  • Missoula County Sheriff’s Office has resumed fingerprint services. Fingerprinting will be offered by appointment on Wednesday and Thursday of each week from 1 to 4 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling 406-258-4810. Individuals with an appointment will be required to check their temperature, ensuring a temperature reading below 100.4, prior to completing the fingerprint process. Masks will be required. Hand washing and hand sanitizer will be provided upon completion of the process.  
  • For Civil Process, please call 406-258-4802. 
  • During an emergency, always dial 9-1-1. 

Superintendent of Schools, 410 W. Spruce St.

  • Office is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., though office hours may vary due to limited staffing.
  • Public is encouraged to make appointments, use the drop box or mail correspondence.
  • Masks are required to enter the building.
  • There is a limit of one person at a time due to the small size of the reception area.  

Weed District and Extension Office, 2825 Santa Fe Court 

  • Office is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., though office hours may vary due to limited staffing.
  • There is a limit of two people at a time due to the small reception area and members or the public are strongly encouraged to call 406-258-4200 to make an appointment with the staff member they wish to visit.
  • Masks are required to enter the building.
  • Call with questions regarding programs or events.

Missoula County to host virtual summit on restoring passenger rail to southern Montana

Missoula County will host a virtual Montana Passenger Rail Summit on Thursday, Sept. 17, to educate and advocate for the restoration of passenger rail service to southern Montana.

The summit is open to elected officials, government staff, business and tourism professionals, and anyone interested in restoring passenger rail service to southern Montana and increasing rail connectivity across the region.

Organizers are still finalizing the agenda, but confirmed speakers include:

  • Elaine Clegg, city council president, Boise, Idaho
  • Robert Eaton, director, State Supported Service and Government Affairs, Amtrak
  • Jordan Hess, councilman, City of Missoula
  • Jim Mathews, president and CEO, Rail Passengers Association
  • Roger Millar, secretary of transportation, Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Andrea Olsen, representative, Montana House
  • Beth Osborne, director, Transportation for America
  • John-Robert Smith, chairman, Transportation for America
  • John Spain, vice chairman, Southern Rail Commission
  • Dave Strohmaier, commissioner, Missoula County

“Restoring passenger rail service to southern Montana would be transformative for the state — economically, socially and environmentally,” Strohmaier said. “As we recover from the effects of COVID-19, it’s more critical than ever to make smart transportation investments that further community resiliency. Passenger rail is key to realizing that vision, and there is no reason why Montana shouldn’t be a leader in making this a reality.”

Strohmaier, with the support of the Missoula Board of County Commissioners and others, has spearheaded the current renewed effort to restore passenger rail service to the southern part of the state, similar to the North Coast Hiawatha Amtrak route that served Montana until 1979. In addition to providing long-distance transportation within the state, passenger rail restoration would provide for greater connectivity regionally, with possible connections to Seattle, Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake City.

State statute allows for counties to create a regional rail authority as a framework for administering and funding passenger rail service. Earlier this month, Missoula County commissioners finalized a resolution to create the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, and commissioners from Dawson, Park and Sanders counties have expressed their intent to join.

“Bringing passenger rail back to southern Montana would be a game changer for our state, but it is no small task,” Hess said. “We need broad support and coordination from cities and towns across Montana. The summit will be an opportunity to add to the growing chorus of voices supporting passenger rail.”

Pre-registration for the virtual summit is now available at https://montanapassengerrailsummit.org/. Participants who pre-register will receive an email update when summit details are confirmed and full registration is available. The summit was originally scheduled to take place in-person in April but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public, media invited to attend virtual meeting of Criminal Justice Coordinating Council

The next meeting of the Missoula County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will take place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, June 26, via Microsoft Teams. Members of the public and media are invited to attend the meeting, which will feature discussion on efforts to reform the criminal justice system locally.

Agenda items include discussing proposals for future criminal justice reforms in Missoula County, such as increased funding for crisis intervention, implicit bias, LGBTQ+ and trauma-informed trainings, as well as a jail diversion initiative specific to Native American populations, who are disproportionately represented in the Missoula County Detention Facility. Currently, 17 % of MCDF inmates identify as Native American, compared with 4 % of county residents who identify as Native American.

District Court Judge Leslie Halligan, who serves as the current chair of the CJCC, will lead the meeting. There will be opportunity for public comment and questions from the news media at the end.

The media and public can join the meeting via Teams using the information below:

Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
+1 406-272-4824
Conference ID: 596 772 250#

MCAT also plans to stream the meeting live on its website and Facebook page

The CJCC is a multi-agency collaboration that uses a data-driven approach to reforming the local criminal justice system, which includes reducing the jail population, addressing ethnic and racial disparities, and more effectively responding to mental health issues. It was established and is primarily funded through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a nationwide effort to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. Three county staff members in the CJCC Department directly support the council’s work.

“In light of renewed calls for criminal justice reform from the national to local levels, we want to make sure the public knows what the CJCC in Missoula County is doing and how they can get involved,” said Kristen Jordan, CJCC manager. “Our team is doing great work, though we know there’s still much to do to ensure an equitable justice system for all in Missoula County.”

Current CJCC initiatives include:

  • Applying for a $125,000 grant through the state Department of Health and Human Services to fund a mobile crisis team that would respond to a call for someone in mental health crisis instead of law enforcement or other first responders. This team would include two mental health professionals to assess and assist the person in crisis and a peer-support specialist and/or case manager to ensure the person receives follow-up treatment and mental health services. Using a mobile crisis team would reduce jail bookings and emergency room visits, decrease arrests and prosecutions, and allow for more appropriate use of law enforcement and first responder time. If awarded, the county and City of Missoula will provide matching funding, which, coupled with grant funds received earlier this year, would total $380,000 to get a mobile crisis team up and running. Research shows that every dollar spent on mobile crisis saves $5 to $7 elsewhere in the criminal justice system.
  • An effort to analyze the result of releasing pre-trial inmates accused of low-level, nonviolent crimes from Missoula County Detention Facility amid COVID-19 concerns. MCDF reduced their population by approximately 50% by releasing inmates who met these criteria in March and have not rebooked the majority of them as they await trial. CJCC staff are collecting data to determine the rate at which they were re-arrested and/or missed court dates. While releasing inmates accused of low-level, nonviolent crimes was already taking place at a slower, more methodical pace before the pandemic, the data gathered from releasing a large number of inmates at once will prove invaluable to the CJCC as it develops and implements more programs to address the root causes of crime, including poverty, addiction and mental health issues.  

  • Implementation of Calibrate, a prosecution-led pre-trial diversion program housed in the County Attorney’s Office. This voluntary program offers some criminal defendants an opportunity to have their criminal charges dismissed if they successfully complete a treatment plan specific to their needs. Treatment plans may include financial counseling, inpatient treatment for addictions and restitution. 

  • Increased use of the Public Safety Assessment, a risk assessment tool that uses nine factors to predict whether an individual will commit a new crime or fail to return to a scheduled court hearing if released before trial.  

  • Development of the Jail Data Dashboard, which is available online. It depicts several key data points that are essential in understanding the jail population and helps to identify, analyze, solve and manage systems issues in the criminal justice process, such as reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.

To learn more about the CJCC, view the Jail Data Dashboard, and review meeting minutes and agendas, head to missoula.co/cjcc.