By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer
BIG SKY – In a Dec. 12 open meeting, the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board agreed to charge a fee for taxes remitted on paper to encourage business to remit online. The board also discussed the possibility of supporting legislation that would give resort communities and districts across the state the option to tax an additional 1 percent with the support of their respective communities.
The Big Sky district will charge a $25 fee for every time a business remits resort taxes on paper instead of digitally. The ultimate goal is for remitters to do so online, saving resort tax staff the time of manually inputting the data and freeing them of liability associated to paper remittance.
The resort tax board discussed participating in the drafting of a bill that would allow resort tax areas and communities to vote on a 1-percent increase in collections for infrastructure—or affordable housing in Big Sky’s case. If passed, individual resort communities would be able to vote to raise their resort tax rate from 3 to 4 percent.
At the Nov. 30 resort tax summit held in Big Sky, West Yellowstone city manager Dan Sabolsky said his resort community had set aside $30,000 to pursue a “Penny for Infrastructure” bill. Virginia City had expressed interest and Gardiner had asked for more information, board chair Kevin Germain said during the Dec. 12 meeting.
This could be the third time the bill will been taken to the Montana legislature, having come just short of the simple majority vote in the Montana Senate required to keep the bill alive for the House to then review in the 2017 legislative session.
The Big Sky Resort Area District spent $36,000 while pursuing the bill alone, Germain said, and estimated that, if various resort communities decided to pursue the legislation again, it would take $50,000 to successfully get the bill through both the House and Senate.
Based on Big Sky’s collections accounting for 43 percent of statewide resort tax collections in 2015, Germain suggested a possible commitment of $25,000 from the BSRAD board if they chose to participate.
BSRAD board vice chair Steve Johnson pointed out that any possible legislation written would have to be viable at two levels: the state level to get the bill through in the first place, and at the local level so that Big Sky voters would support the 1-percent tax increase for affordable housing.
Mike Scholz, the board director, clarified that the importance of the bill’s language should be broad enough that it would applicable to any of the 10 resort tax areas and communities in state. The details of how the additional collections were put to use could be decided by the individual communities.
“This is about a tool in a toolbox,” Scholz said, comparing the extra 1 percent to the ability of unincorporated resort tax districts like Big Sky gaining the right to bond during the 2013 legislature.
“This bill is not a tax,” he continued. “We have all these expenses coming down the road. Our community will have to decide how they want to pay for it.”
As of EBS press time on Dec. 19, the board had not decided whether to participate in the draft bill, “Penny for Infrastructure,” during the 2019 legislative session, which was decided Dec. 21 in a special meeting.
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