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BSRAD board reconvenes for 2023

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Monthly meetings are held at 11 Lone Peak Drive. The board chose not to meet in December, leading to a packed January meeting. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

Possible incorporation of Big Sky among discussion topics at Jan. 11 public meeting

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the Big Sky Resort Area District held their first monthly board meeting since November. The meeting’s agenda finished with an introduction from Big Sky Local Governance, Inc., a recently-formed group of local leaders exploring the possibility of incorporating Big Sky and creating a recognized municipal government.  

Representatives say they aren’t ready to bring the public into meetings yet, as the group continues to research certain unknowns and caveats surrounding what could be Montana’s first incorporation since 1999. During the discussion, Big Sky Community Organization CEO Whitney Montgomery offered public meeting space at BASE for when the time comes, and Big Sky Chamber of Commerce CEO Brad Niva suggested an incorporation discussion for their April “eggs and issues” event.  

Danny Bierschwale, executive director of BSRAD, said the group was placed on the agenda to help provide a space for the community to become educated on the topic.  

“It is not in the best interest of community to move forward with this in a divided way,” he told the board. “I don’t think anyone is intending on that happening, nor is that happening currently, but we need to prevent that. We are most certainly going to be more effective as a community at-large thinking this through, understanding what the impacts are.” 

Discussion included Big Sky’s past effort to incorporate, which board director Kevin Germain remembered as “extremely divisive” before it ultimately failed to reach a vote in 2008 due to pressure from high-leverage community members.  

Big Sky Local Governance plans to provide information and seek community feedback in the coming months.  

Repeat non-compliant businesses 

In the coming months, businesses that repeatedly default on Resort Tax payments will be cited in Explore Big Sky under an advertisement paid for by BSRAD. The notifications will recur monthly until debts are resolved.  

“There’s four or five businesses that, on a fairly regular basis, trigger out to the 120-day level,” Bierschwale said. After then, the public notification process will begin under the new procedure. 

Bierschwale said that BSRAD’s intent is not to pick on one-off violations, but to hold repeat offenders accountable. 

BSCO reviews October workshops 

When BSCO hosted three workshops to brainstorm a new community facility, 140 locals engaged. At the Jan. 11 BSRAD meeting, Montgomery shared the three most popular ideas: a lap-swimming pool for exercise and swim lessons, a multi-sport indoor field house with courts and a running track, and a “kid zone” for communal play space.  

According to a follow-up survey, 17% of participants live alone, 47% live in a two-person household and 36% live in households of three or more. Montgomery pointed out that Big Sky has seen an increase in families, which factors into appeal of a kid zone.  

Montgomery listed other ideas which will be included in BSCO’s new three-year strategic plan, effective July 2023: a dog park, improved trail connectivity, more outdoor athletic fields, a disc golf tournament course, lighted pickle ball and tennis courts and a whitewater park for kayakers. 

Montgomery said BSCO will send a press release in the coming days with more information about the facility planning process and new strategic plan.  

Upgrading road signage 

During a Big Sky Chamber of Commerce update, Niva announced that the chamber was able to reduce their funding ask by 20%. It’s a step toward Niva’s goal for the chamber to self-sustain without Resort Tax funding, which totaled $168,000 in 2022.  

The chamber’s marketing organization, Visit Big Sky, will ask more than expected as Niva plans to increase its advertising spend to avoid the “roller coaster ride of visitation” seen so far this winter when visitors left Big Sky after the holiday week and few arrived in early January.  

“It would be nice to always keep heads in beds in this town, throughout the year,” Niva said.  

This series of street signs will be replaced by Visit Big Sky in an effort to improve visitor experience and create uniformity across the canyon, mountain and meadow regions of Big Sky. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

One of Visit Big Sky’s targeted efforts is an upgrade and standardization of road signs in Big Sky, in order to create a sense of place and “uniform look and feel throughout the town,” Niva said. The existing road signs were created in 2009. 

“We certainly know the town has grown since. Plus, the branding doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the visitor,” Niva said with regards to “Mountain, Meadow and Canyon” illustrated by a black diamond, green circle and blue square, respectively.  

When Niva joined the chamber in summer 2021, he discovered a Montana state tax rebate and dedicated almost $360,000 to this project which fit the conditions for state funding.  

The chamber hired an environmental design group with experience on college campuses and airports and Niva expects the project to cost almost $1 million. He said Visit Big Sky can cover about half using its budget and state funding, and while “big players” including Big Sky Resort and Town Center have agreed to sponsor the signage in their territory, the chamber will ask Resort Tax for $200,000 in each of the next two years to cover the deficit.  

“It’s big, it’s expensive, but it’s a good long-term investment to help support this community,” Niva told EBS. The project will also contribute to pedestrian and cycling signage, trailhead signage, and digital signs to display community information or emergency messages to drivers on Lone Mountain Trail.  

Resort Tax opportunity fund 

In prior board meetings, BSRAD officials discussed the need to set a minimum ask amount for projects applying for funding. The board agreed on a $25,000 minimum unless applicants found a 1:1 funding match elsewhere, to ensure that both the applicant and the board could avoid going through the intensive review process for relatively small asks.  

However, Bierschwale said a streamlined alternative should exist for smaller proposals. 

“Let’s make a process that certainly makes space for those important smaller processes,” Bierschwale said. “But the whole allocation process for nonprofits going into the review process for a $10,000 project, to everyone’s perspective, just seems onerous.” 

BSRAD Vice Chair Ciara Wolfe described it as “hands-on funds you can see in action versus an operational cost,” though Bierschwale said it can also apply to smaller organizations’ operational costs.  

Blechta said BSRAD will need to ensure organizations don’t abuse the program by proposing “[multiple] different projects that are $24,990. Because that will happen,” she said. 

Board Secretary and Treasurer Steve Johnson responded. 

“Let’s just go on record here, if you submit a request for seven [projects worth $24,999], you’re going to get some follow-up questions,” he said.  

Capital Improvement Plan 

As discussed at the Nov. 9 board meeting, the resort area district’s current CIP is out of date, last filed in 2011 for zoning purposes.  

On Nov. 8, BSRAD released a request for proposals to vendors. Bierschwale contacted five local and national vendors by phone and continues to pursue interested agencies.  

“We’re talking about the need for understanding what large capital investments are going to be in the future, so we can budget for funding to support those projects, particularly on a large scale… [and] know how we would implement bonding if that was a mechanism that we wanted to use,” Bierschwale said.  

Wolfe added, “It’s not just an opportunity for our applicants, but also our community to engage, so please do. This is a comprehensive look at capital improvements, not just a focused area… It’s not just for economic stewardship, but for community stewardship, and environmental stewardship. There’s a lot of capital projects that we need to think about that encompass holistically the health of this community.” 

The process is expected to take six months once a contractor is hired. 

Other agenda items 

Lizzie Peyton, director of community sustainability with Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization, notified the board that their capital funding request had increased from $40,000 to $480,000 as they are making plans to “solarize” the RiverView housing complex. With solar energy, Peyton said, lower utility costs will reflect lower rent, creating equity for the low-income renters specified in federal requirements of RiverView apartments.  

“They are already set up to solarize, they just don’t have funding for the panels,” Peyton said.  

Also discussed in the meeting, BSCO will submit a draft maintenance funding agreement for Resort Tax review, increasing BSCO’s ask. Montgomery, who also serves on the board of the Big Sky Meadow Trails, Recreation and Parks Special District, said the BSCO is engaging in a partnership with the board. 

“We are doing a lot of good things right now as this town continues to change, and the opportunities for us to serve are growing,” Montgomery said. 

Wolfe commended BSCO for their robust planning, as it will contribute to BSRAD’s capital improvement plan. She encourages organizations to plan their capital improvements now, before the capital improvement planning process actually begins.  

“I know all these groups are going to come to the table with solid information, but a lot of our smaller groups—think about that. You’ll have access to our consultants, you’ll have that capacity, and that’s why Resort Tax is spending the funds on it, so that everybody can include their capital improvement plan.”  

With regards to Resort Tax forecasting for fiscal year 2024, Blechta said that last year’s applicants expected to ask for $2.4 million more than this year’s applications reflect, in total. Instead of $10.3 million BSRAD had budgeted for, only $7.9 million is being requested now.  

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