If the Bozeman City Commission had its way, the next two years would bring extensive work on funding more social services, establishing a program to have mental health professionals respond to more crisis calls rather than police and other priorities related to the city’s housing crisis and environmental work.
Commissioners whittled down their priorities to a list of nine at a special meeting earlier this month to help guide their work over the next two years.
The nine priorities were formally adopted at a commission meeting last week.
Apart from the social services and crisis response program, other priorities include working on a sensitive lands protection plan for the Gallatin Valley, considering revising the short-term rental ordinance and overhauling the city’s unified development code to promote affordable housing and the city’s climate goals.
“I think these priorities really reflect the diverse needs of our community, as they should,” Commissioner Jennifer Madgic said. “They’re about people, place, the environment, housing …. Everything ultimately is connected and our goals reflect that.”
The other priorities are establishing model homeowners association covenants to bring HOAs in line with city goals, promoting water conservation and wetland preservation and becoming a “City for CEDAW,” or the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
All four incumbent commissioners won election this November — Mayor Cyndy Andrus was the only one not up for election — meaning the makeup of the commission will remain the same when the new terms start in the New Year. Some of the objectives are holdovers from previous priority lists.
Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham noted these holdovers include the sensitive lands study, which has already been identified as a priority.
The city is working with Gallatin County, the Custer Gallatin National Forest and a handful of advocacy groups to complete the study.
“We knew this was going to be a multi-year project,” Cunningham said.
Another holdover is the wetland preservation work, which includes an idea to create a local wetland bank.
Cunningham said commissioners knew that work would also take time, as would work on the city’s more long-term goals around affordable housing and implementing the climate plan.
Some of the priorities represent a new direction for the commission — including the objective to increase funding for community and support services.
Cunningham said there is a debate on whether the city should focus on things like public safety and making sure the roads work, or whether its scope should include funding for social issues.
The commission is leaning more toward having a bigger role in funding those services, Cunningham said.
“It doesn’t commit us to a specific budget amount, it does not say we are going to create a social services staff, what it does say is that we are signaling to the community that we believe we should be playing a role in addressing some of our society’s most vexing social problems,” Cunningham said.
Another goal is to establish a mobile crisis response program. Commissioners allocated $10,000 in this year’s budget to study a similar program in Eugene, Oregon. Commissioner Christopher Coburn said he’d like to see the city get the program running within the next two years.
“The intention at this point is not to do it alone, I think we’re really going to be looking for partners from the county and other organizations that serve our community,” Coburn said.
Several of the nine priorities relate to affordable housing, Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy said, namely the development code overhaul, looking at model HOA covenants and the short-term rental revisions.
“It’s all under the radar of affordable housing,” Pomeroy said.
The model HOA covenant priority includes a suggestion to encourage accessory dwelling units within homeowner associations, which are smaller units that the city has tapped as a way to increase housing density and stock.
Madgic said the commission’s objective is to bring HOAs in line with the city on things like ADUs.
“Very often the goals within the homeowners association can run contrary to the city’s overall goals,” Madgic said. “The idea is to come up with what we’re calling model covenants … that would basically fall in line with many of our city goals.”
The priority resolution also lists encouraging drought tolerant landscaping and water conservation as other things that could be included within the model HOA covenants.
Encouraging water conservation is also an overall priority — the commission plans to have a work session in the coming weeks to discuss water conservation efforts. Mayor Cyndy Andrus said this summer’s drought, which prompted mandatory watering restrictions in the city, offered a lesson.
“We had a pretty successful water conservation program when we asked folks to cut back water this past summer, and are thinking about perhaps how we look at the things that we ask folks to do and consider them the norm,” Andrus said. “Instead of a specific, when we got into this drought phase we’re going to do these things, maybe these are things we should be doing on a regular basis.”