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BSRAD discusses fiscal year 2024, long-term capital improvements

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By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

At the Big Sky Resort Area District meeting on Wednesday, April 19, board members dove deep into discussions of Resort Tax finance policy, 2024 grant allocations, business facts from the BSRAD registration database, and a roadmap designed to help Big Sky take care of its infrastructure and public service needs between 2023 and 2029.  

To start, Board Treasurer Steve Johnson gave an update on BSRAD’s effort to invest idle cash reserves.  

Resort Tax is working with investment banking company D. A. Davidson, looking at “a variety of very, very, very conservative” strategies, Johnson said. He hopes that the board can vote to approve a plan during BSRAD’s next board meeting in May. 

“I feel very confident that we’ve got a very sensible approach here, that will make a huge difference to our bottom line,” Johnson told the board.  

During the board’s later discussion of fiscal year 2024 funding applications, Johnson said there’s a significant opportunity to offset BSRAD’s operating cost which includes legal and professional fees. 

“It’s an unignorable opportunity,” he said. “In my mind, it’s an unignorable responsibility that we have to the community. When we’re sitting on that kind of a pile of cash, we’re supposed to make it work.”  

In the most recent BSRAD board meeting, Johnson said reserves rarely fall below eight figures and currently grows at a “rather pathetic” money market rate of 1%.  

Big Sky Roadmap 

Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale told the board that when BSRAD’s capital improvement plan is completed by late August, it will “probably [drop] a pretty significant number on the community at large, in terms of finances that we need in order to execute large scale infrastructure investment.” 

The board recently approved the updated CIP to replace a “very dated” CIP from 2011 which covered only Gallatin County’s portion of Big Sky. The new report will cover the entire resort area district—including the Madison County portion of Big Sky—and identify infrastructure improvements and “broad based community issues,” Bierschwale said.  

To take action on the recommendations to be outlined in the CIP, Bierschwale introduced an “Infrastructure Investment, Funding & Voter Representation Roadmap” including a Gantt chart that outlines timing of initiatives, many of which will be voted on by the community. 

Also titled “Big Sky Roadmap,” Bierschwale presented the document’s five primary goals: To invest public funds in community infrastructure; to ensure property tax equity and access to Big Sky’s government services; to align voter registration with governance over services provided in Big Sky; to leverage philanthropy for strategic investment; and to educate voters and promote civic engagement.  

The document is available online in the board packet, page 6.  

“There’s been separate efforts, and it just felt like we needed to pull it all together on a roadmap and begin talking big picture about it,” Bierschwale summarized. 

Board member Ciara Wolfe praised the document for providing objective information to the community about the path forward to 2029.  

“I did read all 30 pages, and I would recommend it to all of you. If you’re going to have a voice in this, if you’re going to get engaged in this—which I hope you do and that’s awesome—please read this,” Wolfe said. “Because it has the facts, right there in front of you… It’s really important that we take the knowledge that was given to us as a community and use that to move this forward.”  

Board member Kevin Germain concluded, “To accomplish this Gantt chart, even 75% of it, it’s gonna take this entire community getting behind these efforts. This [requires] coalitions. Big coalitions.” 

Fiscal year 2024 requests 

For fiscal year 2024, 20 sponsor organizations requested funding, totaling $11,044,000. 

Bierschwale told the board to expect that Resort Tax will have roughly $9 million in funds available, but that number may change after collections are complete.  

Board Chair Sarah Blechta voiced a reminder that June 5, 6, and 8 are important dates for board members, organizations pursuing funds and members of the public.  

“I hope to see everybody at BASE, enjoying our beautiful facility and having a very exciting conversation about allocations,” Blechta said.  

‘Staffing & housing’ continues to challenge businesses 

Bierschwale shared statistics from the 1,017 businesses registered within the resort area district.  

In total, 7,233 employees work within the district boundaries, 3,703 of whom live within the boundary. 4,235 workers are classified as seasonal. Blechta suggested that for next year, BSRAD asks employers to distinguish between seasonal and year-round employees when reporting workers that live in Big Sky. 

Short-term rentals comprise Big Sky’s largest business sector at 32%. The district contains 1,267 short-term vacation rentals, 67% of which are located in Madison County.  

Retail accounts for 16% of total businesses, professional services 9%, and food and beverage 8%.  

Biggest challenges for businesses. COURTESY OF BSRAD

According to a business registration poll, the biggest challenge for businesses is staffing and housing, ranked as the tallest hurdle by 31%. Another 15% reported weather, traffic and transportation, and 14% reported the lack of third-party contractors.  

Feasibility of canyon sewer district pipeline 

The new Gallatin Canyon County Water and Sewer District will require roughly $14 million for a sewage pipeline beside Montana Highway 64, connecting it to the Big Sky County and Water Sewer District’s new wastewater resource recovery facility.

This regular board topic was discussed at length, focusing on the source of funding for a $400,000 feasibility study.  

Much of that half-hour conversation focused on the event in which the project would be unfeasible. However, project engineer Mace Mangold assured the board that the project should pass the study.  

“Everything we’ve done to date suggests feasibility. We haven’t run into any hiccups, roadblocks, anything,” Mangold said, adding that next steps include procuring groundwater discharge permit, easements and right of way.  

“I can’t think of a more important community priority than making this become feasible, to deal with the situation in the canyon and the threats to the Gallatin [River],” Johnson said. “This is the biggest of big deals I can think of. We need to make this work. We need to find our way toward feasibility.” 

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