Voters approve school district’s general-fund levy

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – Voters have elected Sarah Blechta and Steve Johnson as the new members of the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board, according to unofficial results of the May 8 elections available at EBS press time.

Blechta received the most votes, with 371; followed by Steve Johnson, 316; Buz Davis, 301; and Craig Smit, 279.

“I am excited to join this dynamic group and look forward to bringing an [appropriations] applicant’s perspective to the board as well as a young family perspective,” said Blechta, who has spent the majority of her life in Big Sky. “Ginna [Hermann] and Heather [Budd] have left big shoes to fill and I’m looking forward to getting up to speed on the upcoming appropriations.”

Blechta currently serves as the president of the South Fork Phase II Homeowners Association, and recently completed a five-year term on the Morningstar Learning Center board of directors. There she helped to implement a capital fundraising campaign for the recently completed infant building, thanks in part to resort tax funding.

For Blechta, the most pressing issue facing the resort tax board is how to meet the community’s infrastructure needs. “We can’t have the tourism if we don’t have the infrastructure,” she said. “How can someone use the public transportation if there isn’t a trail to get them there?”

At an April 2 candidate forum at Buck’s T-4 Lodge, Blechta deflected concerns about a potential conflict of interest given her position as director of property owners associations at the Yellowstone Club.

“I can honestly say the Yellowstone Club did not ask me to run,” she said. “I can’t vote on issues that are a conflict of interest. You abstain. And I can’t say that enough.”

As for Johnson’s priorities, he says he intends to advocate for district residents. “Not businesses,” he stressed. “Our community is facing needs for some significant investments in critical infrastructure to sustain growth with respect for this incredible place where we live.”

Johnson brings extensive experience in volunteer positions on local boards and committees concerned with district infrastructure, including the Big Sky Community Organization, the Gallatin Canyon/Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee, the trails and parks district, and the fire district. “I have also worked hard to learn and understand the practicalities of working within the Montana legal system,” Johnson said.

At the candidate forum, Johnson, who has lived in Big Sky for 17 years, emphasized his insulation from special interests. “I’ve been unemployed and retired completely since I moved to Big Sky,” he said. “I don’t work for anybody here, so I’m completely independent.”

The new board members will soon be tasked with one of the greatest responsibilities of the resort tax district—the appropriation of $7.6 million in funds to community organizations seeking support. The public process begins with an applicant Q&A on June 4 at 1 p.m., at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, where applicants will defend their funding requests before the board and community.

In an email to EBS, resort tax board Chairman Mike Scholz congratulated Blechta and Johnson, and welcomed them to the board. “Their knowledge of the community and desire to help build a better community is recognized and valued by the residents of Big Sky,” he wrote, while also thanking Hermann and Budd for their past service, and Buz Davis and Craig Smit for their candidacy.

The official results of the election will be released by May 18, after the provisional ballots are counted and the outcome is reviewed by the Gallatin County commissioners.

Voters also approved the $40,000 general-fund levy requested by the Big Sky School District to pay higher salaries to teaching staff. For a home valued at $200,000 taxes are estimated to rise approximately $3.89 for the year.

In addition to the levy, the two board trustee seats on the ballot were filled by unopposed incumbents Matt Jennings and Margo Magnant. Magnant recently accepted a position with the Missoula Chamber of Commerce and will resign from the board, at which time a new trustee will be appointed to serve out her term.