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Resort Tax hones in on ordinance revision

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By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – On Sept. 10, the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board hosted an open board meeting at the offices of the Big Sky Water and Sewer District, which played host to an agenda dominated by debate over the vernacular and associated definitions pertaining to the revised Resort Tax ordinance.

Specifically, members of the board grappled with the definitions of “goods and services,” “luxuries” and “necessities of life” and how those ultimately ought to be taxed. The three items have been the center of discussion for the past three BSRAD open board meetings, highlighting the difficulties associated with pinning down the nebulous terminology, particularly where there might be overlap in what are termed “enumerated establishments”; lodging and camping facilities, food service establishments, public establishments that sell liquor, and destination ski resorts or other destination recreational facilities as defined by the draft ordinance.

In what was meant to be a first reading of the ordinance, board members instead determined that they had not reached internal consensus on how “goods and services” and “luxuries” should and will ultimately be defined, and decided that a supplementary open board meeting, scheduled for Sept. 20, was necessary to iron out the language. Members of the board will share their various opinions and ideas amongst themselves in the interim, which will then be discussed at and dictate the procedure of that public meeting.

“The Resort Tax is a tax on goods and services, period,” said Vice Chair Steve Johnson. “It’s always a tax on goods and services, whether sold at an enumerated establishment or anywhere else if those goods and services are identified as luxuries.”

Chairperson Kevin Germain felt that beginning with the definition of “luxury,” first and foremost, would help in solving the remainder of the Resort Tax ordinance puzzle currently in front of the board.

“Everything’s listed under ‘luxury’ and that’s why I think let’s just work on the definition of ‘luxury,’” Germain said. “I’m still struggling with something we want to tax at an enumerated establishment that is not considered a luxury.”

The meeting also hosted representatives from consulting firm Logan Simpson who are spearheading the Community Visioning Strategy.

Bruce Meighen, managing principal for Logan Simpson, revealed key, high-level information as to the direction of the Community Visioning Strategy, such as trending values like “accessible to all,” “beautiful and sustainable,” “environmentally conscious” and “built to preserve natural beauty,” among others, as well as key highlights of project initiatives such as housing, infrastructure, a healthy business community and an abundance of arts and entertainment offerings, to name a few.

According to Meighen, after months of community interaction, interviews and data collection, a reviewable draft plan will be ready for consumption by Big Sky’s various organizations on Oct. 15.

In a bittersweet moment, Mike Scholz announced to those in attendance that after eight years of service for the BSRAD, he will be leaving his post.

Germain spoke on behalf of the board when he said, “Thank you for your dedication to Big Sky … it is truly a better place because of your presence.”

The board then heard statements and questioned three applicants for the available position on the board, and appointed Ciara Wolfe, executive director for the Big Sky Community Organization, after several members of the public in attendance, including former board member Al Malinowski, voiced support for Wolfe and her credentials.

The BSRAD also met on Aug. 30 to review and take action on amendments to the terms of Resort Tax allocations awarded to the Big Sky Housing Trust determined at the Aug. 14 meeting. Per the language of the contract, “During the Term, Contractor [Big Sky Housing Trust] shall be entitled to use up to $773,324 of the Appropriation for down payment on construction financing for Phase 2 of its MeadowView Condominium project … When Contractor’s Phase 2 loan has been repaid from closings on its sales of Phase 2 units, Contractor shall use the Construction Financing Funds for new project developments. … During the Term, Contractor shall use any remaining portion of the appropriation for new development projects.”

It also called for documentation, tracking and reporting of progress to the BSRAD, upon request, and noted that should the full appropriation amount go unused, BSRAD may require the return of said funds or apply the unused funds as rollover to future appropriations.  

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