Final appropriations announced June 14

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Representatives from the organizations requesting appropriations from the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board appeared June 5 to respond to questions about their 2018 applications, in a public Q-and-A at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

The board will announce their final appropriations in a public meeting at WMPAC at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14.

The net resort tax funds available for appropriations for the 2018 fiscal year were reported at $7,271,591. There was a total of $5,840,745 in new resort tax funding requests and $1,188,376 in rollover requests, leaving a minimum surplus of $242,470.

Resort tax supports many components of Big Sky’s infrastructure that in an incorporated town would be funded by a municipal budget. The largest request of $1,664,430 came from the Big Sky Fire Department. BSFD Chief William Farhat was the first to stand before the board to answer questions about the department’s needs to expand its operations, increase staffing and fund a replacement for a 21-year-old fire engine.

Farhat touched on issues that would be echoed across many of the 26 organizations throughout the 5 ½-hour meeting about the challenges of attracting and retaining a qualified workforce, an issue inextricably entangled with affordable housing.

The second largest request came from Big Sky Community Housing Trust, in the form of a rollover request of last year’s funding award of $1.05 million for the Bough Big Sky Community Subdivision. The trust also requested $100,000 in new funding to create an affordable housing action plan based on the 2014 Economic & Planning System housing study.

Brian Guyer, HRDC community development manager and acting director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, estimated delays of two years for the project after the denial of the preliminary plat approval by the Gallatin County Commission in February and an indication from the legal counsel of the adjacent landowners, the Cronin family, that they would appeal any approvals moving forward.

In order to address the development variances cited as grounds for denial, the project plans have been altered significantly, notably by increasing the number of market price units and reducing the number of restricted or affordable units, so that the ratio is about even. Guyer said it’s an issue the HRDC board would take a deep look at.

BSRAD board members also questioned whether the information in the Big Sky Community Housing Trust’s original application had changed so much that it still qualified as a rollover, or if a new application was in order. A final decision had not been reached on this issue by EBS press time on Wednesday, June 7.

Other substantial asks came from Visit Big Sky, requesting $715,000 for investment in the tourism sector in the form of a marketing campaign and strategic planning as well as administrative support; followed by Big Sky Community Organization’s request of $620,852 for parks and trails maintenance and the establishment of a safe pedestrian crossing of Highway 64; and $600,000 requested by the Big Sky Transportation District to expand its Skyline bus routes.

On the lower end of the funding spectrum, the Beehive Basin Homeowners Association asked for $10,000 to assist in the maintenance and snow removal for the popular Forest Service trailhead and access road near the HOA—although a representative from the association was not present to field questions about the application. Big Sky Community Food Bank, Gallatin Valley Snowmobile Association, Jack Creek Preserve Foundation, Big Sky Skating and Hockey, and Big Sky Search and Rescue all had requests at or under $30,000.

Many requests hinged on making a case that an organization or service was crucial to the livability of Big Sky. Sarah Blechta and Matthew Dodd, representing Morningstar Learning Center, endured a long line of questioning in regards to their application for $281,948 for a new infant center, and an additional $90,000 for Morningstar’s tuition reduction program. BSRAD board member Ginna Hermann led the questioning about whether the daycare center rightly qualified to receive resort tax funding, or if it was in service of too-narrow a demographic.

However, voices in support of funding the daycare center were loud, especially a statement made in the public comment portion by Jennifer O’Connor, who was present as a representative of Women in Action. O’Connor, a former Morningstar employee, spoke on behalf of the service the center provides for this community’s employers—and stressed that lack of daycare is right up there with lack of housing as a deterrent to attracting a workforce.

BSRAD’s final appropriations board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14, at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center. A video recording of the June 5 appropriations Q-and-A can be found on Explore Big Sky’s Facebook page. Visit resorttax.org/pub/appropriation_pdfs/resort-tax-2018-applications.pdf a full listing of the 2018 resort tax applicants.