WMPAC gets 99% of request, Morningstar gets 12%

By Taylor Anderson

At long last, Big Sky is going to get its Warren Miller Performing Arts Facility.

After coming into the meeting with $3,188,943.62 in requests for funding and just over $2.5 million to allocate, the resort tax board made several loud and clear statements to the town’s nonprofits during appropriations June 13.

First, if the board has spoken consistently to the tune of millions of dollars in funding the Big Sky Community Corporation for recreation, it should fund about $500,000 for the performing arts center.

Board veteran Ginna Hermann suggested funding $425,000, $75,000 less than requested and $25,000 less than what Friends of Big Sky Education President Loren Bough said was his low-ball number. He still has a fair amount of fundraising to do even after tax funding, he said.

After addressing all other applications and still having an overflow, the board increased funding for the WMPAC to $494,415.52.

Second, the board decided the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce is a driving force in bringing revenue to the town.

The Chamber, whose $640,000 in total requests was the most of any of the 28 applicants, received $572,500, more than any other nonprofit in town.

A third and quite awkward statement was that the Morningstar Learning Center isn’t yet ready to move forward from past blunders, a statement which the board (and subsequently the community, a recent poll has found) was quite split on.

Big Sky’s only certified day care provider asked for $198,778 to fund the remaining mortgage on its new building. The hope being that it could lower high rates for parents.

But the board made quick be known it wasn’t ready to trust this type of application after the group was unable to make good on past contracts.

Board member Mike Scholz hoped funding a fraction of Morningstar’s request would allow the group to spend the next year reworking its offerings to the community.

“I feel that I would highly recommend Morningstar and the school get together and figure out how to make this type of system universal,” Scholz said.

Tax board attorney Mona Jamison, as she had in the past, questioned the legality of funding the group because it may break the Montana Constitution for funding private education.

“It’s not open to the entire community unless [parents] can pay,” Jamison said during the board’s discussion. “So it’s open to a limited group, as opposed to the trails as an example.”

After an initial vote failed 3–2, it appeared as if the board had made the final decision that the center didn’t deserve any funding from Big Sky taxpayers. Jamie Kabisch made a motion to revisit the Chamber request and give it an additional $60,000 to fund six lights on Lone Mountain Trail. It passed.

Hermann made a motion to add $25,000 to the WMPAC, it passed. $30,000 was proposed for the Water and Sewer District for new electronic monitoring systems. That, too, passed.

And remaining funds continued to shrink with the elephant in the room staying anxious.

The board revisited an earlier decision not to fund four new lights for the Town Center Ice Arena, as requested by the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association.

Ginna Hermann, whose husband Gary is on that association’s board, pushed during both discussions to fund the whole $26,500 request for operations and maintenance and the lights. The additional $10,000 for lighting was granted given it’s not an improvement for the Big Sky Town Center.

With just $68,415.52 remaining in the pot, and a $350,000 request from the Water and Sewer District yet to be touched upon, it was clear Morningstar would receive, if anything, a fraction of its request.

Kabisch proposed the board fund $24,000 for a year’s worth of mortgage payments for the group. After another discussion over the possibility that funding the day care center may be illegal, the board passed the portion 3–2. But not before Jamison warned that if someone wanted, they could challenge the board’s funding of Morningstar in court, which could cost more than the $24,000 itself.

The decision reflects the board’s opinion that the community is losing potential members of the workforce by not having affordable day care.

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Overall the meeting had a somber, yet, at very few times, light-hearted feel.

It was less attended than the tax board’s question and answer session in May.

A tense moment came during the discussion over the BSCC’s two-part application for park improvements and operating maintenance. The board and BSCC representative Jessie Neal argued semantics over whether nonprofits should receive funding for reserves to protect assets and capital.

Scholz was staunchly against setting what he called “a precedent for funding reserves.”

Scholz alluded to an earmark in the application for $70,000 that, if unused, he said, could go into a reserve fund to be used at the group’s desire. But Neal, with the eventual help from former board chairman Al Malinowski, urged the board to look at it as a contingency fund that protects $2.9 million in community assets.

And eventually, that’s exactly how the board saw it, and the BSCC received its entire $190,000 request, with the exception that the group not collect put unused money into a reserve fund.

Upon receiving its $130,000 sub-request, the Chamber will look to move from its current, off-the-beaten-path location in the Meadow to the Spanish Peaks building at the intersection across from the Conoco as early as July 1.

Also at the meeting, Jason Jarrett, representing the sheriff’s office’s $124,410 request for operations, faced surprisingly tough questions from the board.

“How many deputies are in Big Sky right now?” asked board chairman Les Loble.

“Two, myself and one other,” Jarrett said. “We have yet to figure out a way to make those guys work 24/7.”

Though the board passed all of its request, it was clear that an intent is to make sure Big Sky gets all out of the five deputies that alternate patrol of the community. But, as Jarrett said, “there’s limitations of having five guys.”

One application seemed to slip under the radar after all the money was gone. The Water and Sewer District, appearing three times on the docket, asked for $350,000 for its debt service. None of it was funded.

After the meeting Water and Sewer President Ron Edwards said his board will decide whether to raise the funds from increased mill levies (property taxes), or from its more than $4 million reserve fund, or both.

Read or download the spreadsheet of all the 2012 Big Sky Resort Tax appropriations here.