Aerial View of Bozeman

An aerial view of Bozeman looking south toward the Gallatin Range in 2015.

As Bozeman’s popularity continues to rise with more people and higher prices, Mayor Chris Mehl said in his first State of the City address Monday the city needs to plan for “inclusive growth.”

Mehl said Bozeman should be a place where people can work, live, play and retire. He said to keep that, people need access to housing, livable wages and services like child care.

“Bozeman is an economic leader in Montana,” Mehl said. “We have the opportunity to become a city with a modern growing economy that provides equality of opportunity for everyone and maintains our strong traditions of community, sustainability and access to the outdoors.”

Mehl said the city of Bozeman leads by example by paying a living wage and calling for pay equity. The city of Bozeman adopted a plan in 2018 to create an employee minimum wage, which by 2019 hit $14-an-hour.

He said the city should continue its partnerships at Gallatin College, where people can access education that leads to higher wages.

When it comes to making sure Bozeman has the foundation for people to access high-speed internet, Mehl said Bozeman will continue to work with Bozeman Fiber and its plans to extend services to connect every home and business in town to “today’s modern economy.”

When the city adopted its budget last year, commissioners included $25,000 to explore providing broadband internet throughout the city. The city also plans to spend $180,000 toward fiber optic conduit and vaults over five years to bolster the foundation for the high-speed internet system.

Mehl said the city needs to work with the private sector to increase access to child care services.

Child care is in short-supply across the state. Mehl said some in Bozeman face child care prices that equal their monthly rent. Bozeman allows child care facilities throughout the city, but Mehl said the city could do more to work with employers and HOAs to reduce hurdles for new businesses to open.

Mehl said the city should also look to cooperate with Gallatin County, the school district, MSU and others to provide child care.

“How do we set a leadership standard where we’re proving child care to our workers whether it’s on our own, or with cooperation with other players?” Mehl said.

Mehl said the city has to work with neighboring governments, the state and businesses to meet its goals, adding they can learn from each other and potentially overlap stretched resources.

Mehl said he plans to meet with Belgrade’s mayor each month and is now meeting regularly with the chair of the Gallatin County Commission. City commissioners and staff are also meeting with local state representatives and senators, Mehl said.

City officials have long pushed for a local option sales tax, which would require a state-level policy change that lawmakers have previously rejected. Mehl said getting permission to collect a sales tax on some items in town remains a priority ahead of the state’s 2021 legislative session.

He said Bozeman has challenges ahead, but added the city’s schools, neighborhoods and economy are “the envy” of similar-sized towns.

“The state of the city is strong, there is nothing facing Bozeman today that Bozeman and its partners cannot solve,” Mehl said.

He added if the city’s population tally comes in at 50,000 or beyond during the next U.S. Census, it will open the door to potential new state and federal funding. Mehl said if that happens, the city should consider hiring a grant staffer to go after that money.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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