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Cities, county sign agreement that will guide public health decisions in Gallatin County

 Gallatin County, Bozeman and Belgrade, signing on to an interlocal agreement that will oversee public health services.
Gallatin County, Bozeman and Belgrade, signing on to an interlocal agreement that will oversee public health services.

After nearly a year of negotiations, Gallatin County, Bozeman and Belgrade have signed onto an interlocal agreement that will oversee public health services.

While the county made some compromises, Bozeman officials say they still have concerns.

A state law passed during the pandemic requires the creation of a local governing body that can override emergency orders — like a mask mandate — made by a local health officer or health board.

In Gallatin County’s early proposal of the interlocal agreement, any decision made by the new governing body required two county commission votes. In the final version, decisions also require at least one vote from the Bozeman or Belgrade elected officials.

County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane says he doesn’t anticipate residents noticing any changes to day-to-day county health operations.

“We don’t expect there to be any variation or any changes in any of the services people access," he said. "They are still in the same locations, same programs with the same funding."

At a city commission meeting in late May, Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus said she was happy to see the county clarify funding responsibilities in the final draft of the agreement. But, she said the city still has major concerns.

“Because of the timeline the county has imposed and to make sure that the duties of the health board and the health officer are not impeded, I will be voting to support this agreement this evening," she said. "However, I will do so under protest,” she said.

A city spokesperson says Bozeman’s concerns revolve around what exactly the county’s responsibility will be and who will manage the health department.

Belgrade Mayor Russell Nelson says now that Belgrade’s population has exceeded 10,000 residents, state law requires that it have its own health board or join an existing one.

“That’s a big nut for any small town to do by themselves and we reached out to Gallatin County to see if we could be part of interlocal agreement and they were more than gracious to let us do that,” he said.

Belgrade signed on to the interlocal agreement earlier this week and will now have a seat on the governing body overseeing the health board and local health officer. The governing body will consist of Belgrade’s Mayor, a Commissioner or the Mayor of Bozeman and all three County Commissioners.

Now that the interlocal agreement has been signed by Gallatin County, the city of Bozeman and Belgrade, the three governments will each appoint people to the 9 member Gallatin City-County Board of Health.

According to a county spokesperson, the new board of health will hold its first meeting on June 30.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.