Some left out, some left over

Story by Taylor Anderson | photo and video by Emily Stifler
June 20, 2011

The Morningstar Learning Center asked for $60,000 from the Big Sky Resort Area District tax committee this year. This request was three times the amount the group asked for and received last year from resort tax, and it would go to help families pay for childcare and education at the center.

They instead got nothing and will have to rely on outside funding to fill the gap and provide childcare to families in Big Sky.

“Obviously, our reaction was everyone was extremely disappointed,” Morningstar board member Laura Sacchi said.

Morningstar, a non-profit childcare and education organization, was one of four groups that requested money from the tax board and were denied at the annual tax appropriations meeting.

The board discussed and voted on how much money the 30 organizations that applied for funding should receive during the June 15 meeting. Big Sky’s 3 percent resort tax is used to fund tourism, infrastructure, the post office, ambulance and emergency vehicles, public transportation, parks and trails, and the community library.

The tax generated $2,654,168 available for the 2012 fiscal year; an annual bond payment of $500,000 to the water and sewer facility dropped the amount available to $2,154,168. The board received $2,272,542 in total requests.

Al Malinowski, tax board chairman, works with four other board members to decide how to best distribute the money.

“We know we’re spending the community’s money, not our money,” he said.

Malinowski’s views seemed to mimic the view of the board in that the money should be spread to as many in the community as possible.

Six requests were denied any funding, (two were ineligible to receive money from Big Sky). The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office was denied any of the $10,000 requested for a proposed special event fund. The Westfork Meadows Homeowners Association was denied $69,480 in reimbursement from road and drainage improvements it made last year. The committee also denied the Gallatin County Business Association any of its $24,170 request for marketing.

Morningstar was the final group not to receive any money requested, which Sacchi said could impact the 30 to 40 families to whom the group provides children early education and working parents with a place to leave kids during work.

“Anyone who’s involved in our organization sees firsthand day in and day out the huge benefits that we provide to the community,” she said.

The tax board discussed issues with an amount approved to Morningstar in 2007 for a new facility that would also be available to various groups in the community. The group received $300,000, yet no building has been finished.

That’s because the money went to the planning for the building, Sacchi says, and Morningstar’s “financial performance suffered during the financial downturn.”

“No one in the community is more sorry than I because we don’t have that building up yet,” Sacchi said, but “the project is on hold until we can get the funding.”

Malinowski said during an interview that the building was a disappointment, but it wasn’t the sole reason for denying this year’s request.

“This has to benefit a sizable amount of the community, and in my opinion, this doesn’t meet that,” he said.

Morningstar was given $20,000 last year for scholarship costs. The board granted the request with the stipulation that every $500 in scholarships to existing students must be matched with $500 for new student scholarships.

“That was an attempt by our board for Morningstar to get more people to use that service so they’d be able to maintain a sustainable future,” Malinowski said.

The $60,000 request this year was to fund more scholarships. The board voted it down 2–3.

Morningstar has received $320,000 from the tax board since 2008. It has received the third most of any group in its ‘Culture and Entertainment’ category since ’08 – after the Arts Council of Big Sky and the Ophir school. In total, Morningstar has received shy of 14 percent of that category’s funding since ’93.

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Most of the groups that asked for money from the board received at least some of their requests.

“Our community walked out of that meeting much better than when it walked into it,” Malinowski said.

The majority of funding since ’93 has gone toward infrastructure, which accounts for a third of the more than $31 million appropriated. The amount is largely a result of the water and sewer district bonds, which is a bond and expense paid by the resort tax at intervals of $500,000 per year. Those payments will be halved next year, with the final payment on the bond.

“In the case of public money, I’m accountable for the community,” Malinowski said.

The Big Sky Fire Department received $430,000, more than any other group. A good portion of the department’s budget is for a new ambulance, which will cost $190,000.

The next-largest appropriation was for the Big Sky Transportation District’s Skyline bus service, which received $290,000.

The Biggest Skiing in America, a winter marketing campaign and offset project by the chamber of commerce, was viewed by the board as a huge success and received $200,000 of the $290,000 received by the chamber as a whole.

The tax board dealt with 30 groups’ requests at the meeting. There was an excess of $178,951.82, which will be put into an account for next year.

Big Sky Resort Tax Board of Directors elections are this November and are open to any registered voter who lives within the tax district.

To get a sense of the appropriations meeting, take a look at this video clip:

Download pdf of 2012 Resort Tax applicants and funds