By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – The Big Sky Resort Area District tax board met July 12 to address agenda items that included a restructuring of the Big Sky Fire Department’s request for funds, an update on bonding capacity, and a review of all contracts with conditional appropriations.

The board also held internal elections. Jamey Kabisch stepped down from his four-year tenure as chairperson. Mike Scholz replaced him, with Kevin Germain stepping in as vice chair.

Two seats on the board, currently filled by Heather Budd and Ginna Hermann, will be up for public vote on May 8, 2018.

“I think we get stagnant, jaded,” Kabisch said. “I just want what’s best for the district and I don’t know that me serving as the chairperson moving forward is the right thing for the district. … I look forward to serving the board in a different way.”

Several representatives from local organizations expressed concerns about their 2018 funding, including Big Sky Transportation District Coordinator David Kack, Big Sky Fire Department Chief William Farhat, and Ciara Wolfe, executive director of the Big Sky Community Organization.

On behalf of the joint interests of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, Visit Big Sky and Big Sky Gateway Foundation, chamber CEO Candace Carr Strauss stressed the urgency of purchasing the high-visibility corner lot at the intersection of Highway 191 and Lone Mountain Trail—where the visitor center is now—and asked the board to consider how they might support this effort.

“We just feel that there’s an amazing opportunity in front of us, and there’s the potential for it to be lost and that would be a tragedy for our community,” Strauss said. The board agreed to add the item to the Aug. 9 meeting agenda.

Transportation district coordinator David Kack shared his disappointment that Gallatin County declined providing any of the $80,000 requested for the next fiscal year to expand their bus services.

“We’ve only gotten funding one in 10 years of asking [Gallatin County], and Madison County has been there every year,” Kack said, adding that transportation services need to be looked at as a joint partnership akin to law enforcement, and that there is an expectation to receive funding from the county. The board agreed to write a letter to the Gallatin County commissioners on the transportation district’s behalf.

Chief Farhat told the board there was a strong indication that the department would receive a grant that would help fund the hiring of additional battalion chiefs. Should the grant be received, it would decrease their resort tax funding request. But Farhat’s primary purpose for addressing the board was to ask if they’d re-order the funding payout schedule for a replacement fire engine. If the department could pay the majority upfront, they could use the $24,000 discount to purchase additional necessary equipment for the truck, and the board agreed.

Significant time was spent discussing how to improve board policies and meeting procedures moving forward. The discussion included changes in study request for proposal (RFP) requirements, changing the funding cycle to allow for two-year projects, and redistributing public commentary to align with the related agenda item.

Although the taxation of Big Sky’s private clubs—the Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and Moonlight Basin—was on the agenda, the board’s relatively new legal counsel, Betsy Griffing, said she needed to conduct more research to better understand how the clubs operate.

New tax software was discussed that will make it easier for the BSRAD board to identify short-term rentals through platforms like Airbnb and VRBO that may not have registered as collectors.

Mike Scholz reported the resort tax district currently has a bonding capacity of $10,882,000. Bonding capacity is the maximum total contract value a bonding company will extend to a contractor in performance bonds—the district doesn’t currently have any bonded projects.

Attorney Griffing led the final discussion of contracts with conditions, which included how to legally bind Morningstar Learning Center to remain a daycare center in order to receive funds, and how those funds would be reimbursed should the property’s purpose be altered. After hearing from Morningstar’s lawyer, Mindy Cummings, it was decided that a Montana trust indenture, which is akin to a mortgage, and promissory note would be the best way to resolve the issue.

Wolfe told the board that the Big Sky Community Organization has presented a strong application for a Montana Transportation Alternative Program (MTAP) grant that would provide the additional funding needed for construction of the pedestrian tunnel under Lone Mountain Trail, a project that could take up to four years.

She also addressed BSCO’s receipt of $548,619 of its $620,852 total request, with the condition that $142,765 may be sought and spent on the tunnel project, only after the expenditure of grant funds.

There was some clarification needed as to whether there were conditions on how the resort tax funding BSCO received could be spent.

“If we don’t get the MTAP grant, we take $140,000 out of that, we’re left with $400,000 to do everything we want to do,” Wolfe said.

“It’s up to you and your board what you do with the rest of [the funds],” Kabisch said. “There were no other stipulations on our contract.”

The resort tax board agreed to look at the way the final appropriation meetings are conducted in the future to avoid confusion about final outcomes among recipients and the board itself.

The next public meeting of the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board will be held at 8 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 11, in the resort tax office located in the Town Center RJS Building at 11 Lone Peak Drive, Suite 204.