By Joseph T. O’Connor
Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – The Big Sky Resort Tax Board recently shifted a portion of its Big Sky Chamber of Commerce funding from a utility line burial project in Big Sky to one seeking a Targeted Economic Development District in the area.

At the annual appropriation meeting in June, the RTB allocated $594,590 to the chamber for its “Program of Work,” according to a Big Sky resort tax appropriation document. Of that amount, $100,000 was earmarked to subsidize burying power lines at the intersection of Highway 191 and Lone Mountain Trail.

During a Sept. 10 meeting, the RTB unanimously carried a motion to reallocate $45,000 of the $100,000 allocation for the chamber to spearhead a process supporters hope will culminate in approval by both Gallatin and Madison county commissions to form a TEDD in the Big Sky area.

“[Reallocating funds] normally doesn’t happen,” said RTB Chairman Jamey Kabisch. “There needs to be a good reason. I think that [a TEDD] could be a big influx for additional funding … I see this as a tool to help the growth of the community without relying solely on resort tax funds.”

The total cost of the project is estimated to approach $95,000, according to Ryan Hamilton, project manager with Big Sky Town Center and a member of the Big Sky TEDD Committee, which was formed under the chamber in July to eventually present a TEDD development plan to both counties.

Project expenditures include lawyer and consultant fees, project management costs and paying a yet-to-be-determined group to help draft a proposal to the county commissions, something the committee hopes to present by the end of the calendar year.

“It’s a two-step process,” said Hamilton, noting that the group needs to first prove to the commissioners that infrastructure deficiencies are present in Big Sky and, pending this acknowledgement, present a development plan. “By the end of November we hope to have an [initial] hearing with the commissions.”

One funding mechanism for a TEDD is Tax Increment Financing, a tool used to effectively keep incremental property tax increases in the district and reinvest them in infrastructure improvements.

The reallocation is contingent upon both counties’ approval, as well as $25,000 in matching funds to be supplied by a state grant and private funding. If either of these contingencies isn’t met, the chamber will have to return to the RTB for the board to release any additional funding, according to Kabisch.

The RTB has reallocated funds to a non-approved project one other time since 2001, according to RTB records. That was in 2011, when it shifted $7,000 in Big Sky Community Corp. funding from an office space request to backing a BSCC effort to relocate the Cowboy Hall of Fame to Big Sky.

The Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center chose Big Timber in 2012 for the site of its new museum.

Private organizations including the four local resorts – the Yellowstone Club, Big Sky Resort, the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, and Moonlight Basin – as well as Town Center, have contributed a total of approximately $25,000 to the project so far, said Yellowstone Club Vice President of Development Mike DuCuennois, who was present at the meeting.

Montana Senate Bill 239, signed into law in April 2013, allows unincorporated areas in the state to form TEDDs. According to the bill, projects can include infrastructure improvements to sidewalks, roads, parking facilities, sewer lines and bridges, among other public improvements.