By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BIG SKY – The Big Sky Water and Sewer District is increasing its mill levy by 26.99 percent this year. That means property taxes will go up for residents of the district.

The district has funded many of its infrastructure improvements with general obligation bonds; the voters approved these in 2002 and 2006 to support the new sewer treatment plant, the water tank in Hidden Village, and the water facilities plan improvements to connect the Mountain and Meadow water systems.

The annual debt service for these bonds is paid primarily with money collected from a mill levy assessed on property in the district. A mill is a monetary unit worth one thousandth of a dollar, and mill rates are based on state-assessed property values. At 27.8 mills, this year’s levy will be the highest rate to date.

The first two bonds in the amount of $5.9 million dollars paid for the filtration treatment plant, lining leaky storage ponds, and expanding the golf course irrigation system. Those are fully paid off this year, funded 100 percent by Big Sky Resort Tax. Three bonds for water and two for wastewater remain, totaling $21 million.

A 1996 agreement between the resort tax board and the water and sewer district that committed $500,000 annually toward the bond debt service also ends this year. The only multi-year agreement the resort tax board has ever entered, the district used the money to expand its capacity.

Resort tax this year denied the district’s $350,000 request, which would have been applied against debt service payments in the amount of $1,431,194, reducing the mills necessary to cover the total debt service for 2013. This is the primary reason for the mill levy increase, said Water and Sewer District Director Ron Edwards.

“We’ve made the argument that because we’re a resort community, we have to build things to accommodate all visitors that come here,” Edwards said. “Visitor influx has impacted how much and what size we have to build our infrastructure, and for that reason we think it’s a reasonable expense for resort tax to help pay for cost to upsize everything.”

The district’s financial officer Terrence M. Smith sent a letter to residents in early October, detailing the mill levy increase and explaining that the district will continue to apply for annual resort tax funding.

The resort tax board “felt there were other competing needs that were more urgent than the water and sewer district application,” said RTB chairman Les Loble. “The water and sewer district has its own means of funding through mill levies and water and sewer rates. There are a number of other applicants that have no other means of funding except through resort tax.”

Property owners in the district will see the increase on their individual county tax bills in mid-October, due Nov. 30 and May 31. None of the money collected through these levies goes toward operations, according to Smith and Edwards.

Three of the bonds will be paid in full in 2023, one will be paid off in 2024 and the final one in 2027.