BY AMY SMIT

Aside from being a Rocky Mountain
Eden, Big Sky is a bustling tourist
destination. It is also an unincorporated
remote community that straddles
the Gallatin/Madison county
line. In the past, the high number of
visitors put signifi cant strain on Big
Sky’s infrastructure. So, in 1992, the
community’s voters created the Big
Sky Resort Area and implemented a 3
percent sales tax.
While Montana does not collect sales
tax, the state created the resort tax
option to aid small communities with
a high rate of tourism. The idea is to
use revenue from visitors to develop
and maintain adequate infrastructure
and services. By defi nition, a Mon-
tana “resort area” must be unincorporated,
with a population of less than
2,500.
In 1998, local voters created the
Big Sky Resort Area District. The
resulting district unifi ed Big Sky, and
put control of the resort tax into the
hands of a local Board. The members
of this grassroots Board serve
on a volunteer basis and are directly
elected by Big Sky voters. The Board
appropriates millions of dollars to
improve the quality of life in Big Sky.
They oversee and advise one resort
tax district employee.
Last year, the district distributed over
2.3 million dollars to local organizations
who applied for funding. The
money went to a wide variety of
organizations that promote tourism
and improve the quality of life in this
mountain hideaway—recreation and
events that entertain both visitors
and locals alike.
The Arts Council of Big Sky, for
example, uses resort tax funding to
sponsor several big events, including
the Music in the Mountains free
concert series in the summer. Resort
tax helps build and maintain the
Community Park, which is currently
undergoing a complete redesign and
expansion. The Big Sky Community
Corporation has used resort tax
money to maintain over 12 miles of
local trails./
Resort tax also funds important infra-
structure. It allows the Sheriff’s of-
fi ce to station a deputy in the canyon
and contributes to the Big Sky Search
and Rescue. It supports the Commu-
nity Library, Fire Department, the
Post Offi ce and Skyline bus routes.
The Board helps grow tourism
through programs like the Biggest
Skiing in America marketing campaign
and snowmobile trail grooming.
Locals and homeowners benefit
from the funds appropriated for
watershed assessment, forest health,
wildfi re fuel reduction, noxious weed
control and distance learning. The
Big Sky Resort Area District also
supports childcare and counseling
scholarship programs.
Resort tax is Big Sky’s most basic form
of government, and registered local
voters have tremendous amount of
infl uence as to who is on the Board. It
is important the community understands
it.
QUESTIONS?
If you have a resort tax issue that
you would like to learn about, please
email Amy Smit at resorttax@gmail.
com. Stay tuned for more information
about resort tax and its positive infl u-
ence on our community.
Born in upstate New York, Amy Smit
has studied writing, communications
and accounting. In 2001, Smit
stumbled upon Big Sky during a move
to the West coast. Enchanted, she came
for one ski season—and stayed. The
ex-ski bum, mother of two, is currently
the Administrative Officer for Big
Sky Resort Tax. She loves to be in the
mountains with her boys.