Resort tax board to explore expanding role in community

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – The July 11 meeting of the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board focused primarily on two agenda items: finetuning the language in the Big Sky Community Housing Trust’s $1.7 million appropriations contract, and a presentation of self-governing options by Montana State University Local Government Center Director Dan Clark.

The contract concerning the appropriation of $1.7 million in resort tax funds to the housing trust, the bulk of which is for the acquisition of the Meadowview property for an affordable housing project, came under scrutiny when resort tax board members voiced concerns that the language did not adequately ensure the funding would benefit the specific demographic it was awarded to serve.

The board wanted the language to reflect more precisely that the funds were designated for affordable “workforce” housing, and would be secured as such over the long-term.

The board members posed scenarios that might expose loopholes in the existing language: What if an eligible employee of a Big Sky business or organization purchases a unit but soon retires, or receives an inheritance, becomes disabled, or any number of conditions that would mean one less available unit for an active member of the community’s workforce?

Board chair Mike Scholz pointed out that without being more specific in this regard, Big Sky would eventually find itself in the same position as other ski communities that didn’t sufficiently secure the future of affordable housing developments.

“I’m only saying [that we need to] make sure the money we give takes care of the group of people in our community that we want it to,” Scholz said.

Attorney Mindy Cummings, speaking on behalf of the housing trust, lamented delaying the funding, but the board decided that she would tweak the wording in the contract to clarify the funds were for affordable housing for an “active workforce.”

In an interview with EBS a week after the meeting, board secretary Steve Johnson said the board was “working their [butts] off” to get the contract finalized in time for the next meeting of the HRDC on July 25.

Big Sky Chamber of Commerce CEO Candace Carr Strauss called in MSU Local Government Center Director Dan Clark to present his conclusions on the best self-governing options for Big Sky to unify, and thereby render more effective, the collective voice of the community.

Via video call, Clark reiterated that in his opinion the most viable three options are the creation of a community council, a special multi-jurisdictional district, and expanding the role of the resort tax board, which Clark seems to favor for the board’s legitimacy as an elected entity, and because it already doles out the majority of community funding.

“It seems resort tax has a lot of influence,” Clark said. “It would be rethinking your role within the district and how you can use the influence of the purse to create a broader vision of specific goals, and thinking about how [funding requests are] going to support that vision.”

While all agreed that the responsibility shouldn’t fall on the chamber of commerce—its priority being the Big Sky business community—concerns were raised about the resort tax board members already having enough responsibilities, and questions on how to move forward if the board was willing to reexamine its role in the community.

Johnson expressed interest in potentially broadening the scope of the resort tax board, and has been working with Clark to put together a framework for what the next evolution of the resort tax board might look like for discussion at a future board meeting.

“When we have achieved the level of funding that we’re trying to manage for this community, to put that to use to be effective, it needs to be done in a strategic way,” Johnson said.

Scholz, who has exhibited resistance to this idea, said, “If you can convince me of it, great. … Just because I’m hesitant, I would not say no to investigating it.”

The next public meeting of the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board is Aug. 8 in the resort tax office in Big Sky Town Center.