Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County this week approved a $900,000 contribution to help fund the operation and management of the Johnson Street shelter through next October.

The county's share of funding, which comes from a remittance of tax increment from the city, will be added to the city's $800,000 contribution, bringing the total cost to around $1.7 million.

Both the city and county have contracted the Poverello Center to manage the shelter. The city has allocated what remains of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to the cause, and both governments don't currently have the funding needed to operate the shelter again next winter.

That has city and county officials concerned.

“After this year, we don't even know how we're going to operate this second shelter. It's going to have a huge impact on our budget next year,” City Council member Amber Sherrill said this week. “We have a lot of things we need to figure out.”

At an open house at the shelter last week, a number of city officials in attendance said funding for next year isn't yet available. Without it, the city could be back to a single shelter at the Poverello, which doesn't have the capacity to accommodate today's needs.

Eran Pehan, the city's director of planning and development, said a number of options are being explored. Among them, cities around Montana may unite in asking the state to release unused ARPA funding to help municipalities expand sheltering options. They could also ask the state to approve new billing options to Medicaid.

But both will require state cooperation and approval, and that remains uncertain.

“The city and the county are meeting every couple weeks to work through what next year looks like after October,” county CAO Chris Lounsbury told the Missoula Current on Thursday. “It'll be part of next year's budget for the commissions.”

Finding nearly $1 million from each the city and the county's budget may be a stretch, as both governments this year said their budgets were already tight. The city raised taxes 9.7% this year while the county raised its taxes by 5.4%.

Pressure on the city's general fund is growing heavier each year, city officials said.

“I'm highly aware of the incredible tensions and constraints on our general fund,” said council member Gwen Jones. “There are so many constraints on the general fund.”

While Missoula County said funding the shelter next year will remain part of its budget talks, it's also exploring other funding options with the city.

“We've been working to figure out what if any available sources there might be. That includes grants at the state or federal level,” said Lounsbury.

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