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Voter Guide: School and special district elections

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By Bella Butler and Gabrielle Gasser MANAGING EDITOR AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Correction: This article has been updated to include Sarah Blechta’s correct title as vice president of property owners associations at the Yellowstone Club.

BIG SKY – Local ballots were mailed to active registered voters in both the Madison and Gallatin county portions of Big Sky on April 18, kicking off the 2022 election year.

For voters in the Big Sky School District, two levies appear on the ballot.

Candidates running for the Big Sky School District, the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District and the Big Sky Resort Area District were unopposed.

The Big Sky School District candidates currently appear on the local election ballot.

All other local positions will be elected by acclamation on May 3.

Ballots must be received at the Gallatin County Elections office or a designated place of deposit by 8 p.m. on Election Day, May 3. Ballots may be returned by mail or in-person. Gallatin County recommends ballots are mailed no later than Wednesday, April 27 to ensure they arrive on time.

General Fund Levy

The general fund levy proposed by the Big Sky School District is an increase in local taxes to support the district’s General Fund in the amount of $70,000. The purpose of this levy is to provide funds to pay for operating expenses associated with teacher salaries and will increase the taxes on a home with a market value of $100,000 by approximately $1.81 per year, and on a home with a market value of $200,000 by approximately $3.62 per year.

“In order to attract and keep the best teachers, the school board needs to be able to offer a competitive salary over a multi-year contract and is looking for community support to maintain the high standards we have achieved in the Big Sky School District,” said BSSD Board Trustee Stacy Ossorio. “In order to offer multi-year employment contracts, with cost-of-living increases, the board is proposing this modest mill levy to fund this important initiative to allow our rapidly growing community to offer the best education and school facility possible.”

Building Reserve Levy

The building reserve levy proposed by BSSD is intended to maintain local taxes to support the district’s Building Reserve Fund in the amount of $108,346 per year for five years, for a total amount of $541,730. The purpose of this levy is to provide funds to pay for facility maintenance and repair, grounds maintenance and improvements, and equipment upgrades. This levy renews the current five-year Building Reserve Levy which is expiring and will maintain taxes on a home with a market value of $100,000 of approximately $2.81, and on a home with a market value of $200,000 of approximately $5.62.

“The Building Reserve Levy is important to support because that’s almost the only vehicle we have, outside of the general fund, to support the maintenance of our facilities and our facilities require maintenance,” said BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman.

Big Sky School District

Two board trustees appear on the local election ballot for voters in the Big Sky School District.

Kara Edgar

After being appointed to the school board in August 2021 after trustee Whitney Littman resigned, Kara Edgar is running unopposed for re-election. She hails from the East Coast and moved to Big Sky fulltime with her family of five in 2020. Prior to the move, the Edgar family spent summers in Big Sky and came out on longer visits since 2010. Now, Edgar’s three children attend Ophir Elementary and
Middle schools.

“I am running for the Big Sky School District Board because I believe in our public school and I want to keep our children at the center of the room,” Edgar wrote in an email to EBS. “As a parent, volunteer, current trustee and proud community member, I am impressed with the level of excellence we achieve and the standards to which we hold our educational system accountable. … I vow to seek creative ways to overcome the obstacles our public schools face in budgeting and beyond. I vow to be a bridge between the community and the board, and view communication and transparency as vital in making
this happen.”

Scott Hammond

Scott Hammond is running unopposed for re-election to the school board for his second full three-year term. He originally came to Big Sky in 1994 and has held a variety of jobs in the community until he founded his own business, Hammond Property Management Inc., in 1997. He and his wife, Krisy, have two kids who have both attended Ophir Schools and Lone Peak High School.

“I’m very interested in the investment that the community approved, the $23 million bond that was passed a few years ago, and seeing that come to fruition and seeing that money spent as efficiently and intelligently as possible,” Hammond said. “I look forward to influencing a more ergonomic parking lot and drop off configuration. … I’m also excited to see athletics expanded upon, possibly a baseball team. And I look forward to seeing the athletic department continue to improve and expand. And to contribute as a community member of 29 years I want to see the high school and the school district continue to grow and improve.”

Big Sky County Water and Sewer District

Two Big Sky Water and Sewer District board members will be elected by acclamation on May 3.

Pete Manka

Pete Manka is preparing to begin his third four-year term with the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District. Owner and water engineer at Alpine Water in Big Sky, Manka brings apt experience to the water and sewer board. These are “critical times” for water in Big Sky, Manka said.

“I think we (the board) are stewards of a vital resource and in that process I feel like the skills and experience I have kind of contribute in basically helping create a safe environment where we’re responsibly using our resource [and] disposing of our resource … as responsibly used for the benefit of the community and resource,” Manka said.

Al Malinowski

Al Malinowski will begin his first four-year term with the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District. Malinowski brings experience from across Big Sky as the president of Gallatin Partners, contract manager of the Big Sky Post Office, a current member of the Big Sky Trails, Recreation and Parks Special District and former member of the Big Sky Community Organization and Big Sky Resort Area District boards. He has also served on several homeowners associations.

“The board and staff of [the water and sewer district] has a valuable blend of experience and representation from various community interests that has the organization positioned to handle our growth issues,” Malinowski wrote in an email to EBS. “I hope that my accounting and business background, my critical thinking skills and my predisposition for collaboration will make me a valuable asset to the board as we continue to address the challenges faced by [the district].”

Big Sky Resort Area District

Two Big Sky Resort Area District Board directors will be elected by acclamation on May 3.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson will begin his second four-year term as a board director with the Big Sky Resort Area District. Johnson is an active member of the community, serving on the boards of Big Sky Community Organization, Big Sky Fire District, Big Sky Trails, Recreation and Parks Special District and the Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee. Johnson is currently the secretary and treasurer for the Big Sky Resort Area District Board.

“The board is responsible to its constituent voters to manage significant and growing public revenue for legitimate community priorities,” Johnson wrote in an email to EBS. “The Our Big Sky planning effort was an important step in identifying strategic priorities, but the uncertainties of current times continue to pose challenges. The challenge to our board is managing these funds with an appropriate balance among long-term investments, support for essential services and an appropriate reserve to handle opportunities.”

Sarah Blechta

Big Sky native Sarah Blechta, who currently serves at the Big Sky Resort Area District Board chair, will begin her second four-year term on the board. Blechta also works as the vice president for property owners associations at the Yellowstone Club.

“I love being a part of helping to shape a community that shaped me,” said Blechta, who moved to Big Sky as an elementary school student in 1991.

Blechta reflected on the changes the district has undergone since the start of her first term, including moving toward more objective meetings and allocation cycles. With increasing annual resort tax collections, she says keeping an eye on long term growth will be key for
the board, and it’s something she enjoys doing.

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