After four years on the board, three members of the Big Sky Tax Board are ready to leave

By Taylor Anderson Explorebigsky.com Assistant Editor

In an unincorporated town like Big
Sky, folks are set out to govern themselves.
Volunteerism runs rampant,
and the best way to get things done is
often to collaborate interests.
“An important advantage of a locally
controlled [tax] board is the ability to
be creative in our attempts to support
the community,” said Loren Bough,
who is running for his second term on
the board.
Since 1993, the Big Sky Resort Area
District has assigned or elected a tax
board to oversee collection and distribution
of a 3 percent sales tax known
as the Resort Tax. Six other Montana
towns have enacted resort taxes.
The idea was originally spearheaded
behind the idea that tourists were
frequenting the area and straining
infrastructure and emergency services.
After three attempts to pass the Montana
Legislature, the tax was approved.
“We don’t necessarily plan what Big
Sky needs,” said Al Malinowski, the
board’s chairman. “We say here’s how
much money we have, here’s what
you’ve asked for.”
Sometimes questioned for being a
sales tax in a state without one, the tax
has generated nearly $32 million in its
18 years, and each year is passed out to
businesses and non-profits that make
grant proposals to the board.
Last June, the board finished appropriations
with a surplus of more than
$180,000, which will be available to
the community next year.
“The great thing about resort tax is
that it’s not like it goes to Helena,”
Malinowski said. “So much government
is, ‘If you don’t spend it, you’re
not gonna get to use it next year.”
The board sometimes has to make
tough decisions that affect the community.
In June, they denied funding to four
groups, one of which was the Morningstar
Learning Center childcare and
preschool – the only state certified
childcare provider in Big Sky.
The board voted down the center’s
request of $60,000 because it decided
it didn’t help a wide enough array of
the community.
“This has to benefit a sizable amount
of the community and in my opinion
this doesn’t meet that,” Malinowski
said after the appropriations meeting
last June.
The volunteer five-member board
meets throughout the year to discuss
revenues and consider where money
should be allocated throughout town.
“When organizations deliver on their
goals and budgets year after year, our
job is easy,” Bough said. “Conversely,
we occasionally need to make hard
choices based on results and budgets,
not on personal opinion.”
About a third of the tax has been used
for infrastructure improvements, a
majority of this going to the Water and
Sewer District.
In the early ‘90s, the community
reached capacity with the sewage system
that was in place, and a moratorium
was placed on construction until the
problem was fixed. The WSD received
a permit to begin dumping wastewater
into the streams that run into the Gallatin
River, Malinowski said.
To deal with this, the board of
advisors reached an agreement in
1996 that allocated the lesser of
$500,000 or 50 percent of the tax
revenues each year to WSD development
until 2012. No water was
dumped into the creeks.
$8.2 million has gone to emergency
services like the fire and sheriff departments,
as well as Big Sky Search
and Rescue and the volunteer ski
patrol.
The Big Sky Transportation District
has received about $4.5 million
since 1993.
During the last four-year term
BSRAD collected $10,622,486.52,
33 percent of total revenues in its
history. The growth is due to an
increase in population and tourist
traffic leading up to the recession.
Revenues collected have dipped
steadily since 2008 in the midst of
recession.
Five candidates this November are
running for three open spots on
the tax board. Al Malinowski and Lance Child are all stepping
down after two terms, and Bough must be re-elected to his position.
“I know we’re never gonna make
everybody happy. I don’t think
in eight years I’ve walked out of
those meetings and said everything
went the way I wanted it to,” Malinowski
said.