BSRAD honors past, plans for the future
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
Since 1992, Big Sky Resort Area District has collected more than $110 million in resort tax and allocated nearly $94 million to government services and community organizations.
As BSRAD celebrates 30 years, they will soon distribute printed booklets of their annual report which commemorates their history with news clippings and historic photos.
The anniversary was among the topics discussed at the Feb. 8 monthly board meeting, as well as Big Sky’s strategic fiscal plan through 2026, a post office update, discussion of the canyon water and sewer district as a state-leading effort, and capital requests by the Big Sky Fire Department.
A special BSRAD board meeting will be held on Feb. 27 “if ineligible requests are submitted requiring board action prior to the regularly scheduled meeting on March 8,” according to a follow-up email to EBS by communications and community engagement manager Tammy Estensen.
Three-year strategic plan
After the previous board meeting on Jan. 11, the board held a strategic planning session to plot out the fiscal years 2024-26. Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale thanked the board for their time and energy, and announced that BSRAD’s vision statement, mission statement, core values and principles of operation will all remain unchanged from the current plan which expires in June 2023, except that the board added “transparency” to its core values.
The board also compiled three pillars, which Bierschwale explained: “culture of unity” is meant to align Resort Tax with other public funds and philanthropy, establish baseline indicators of a healthy community and incentivize partnership and collaboration.
“Engage our community” is meant to facilitate community dialogue on current priorities, foster business advocacy of resort tax, and strengthen public understanding of local governance and public funds.
“Strategic investments” would create a long-term capital investment road map, develop a tax retention strategy and proactively solicit projects that target specific priorities.
The strategic plan was summarized in Estensen’s email, as unifying around a healthy community, increasing civic engagement and advocating for keeping tax dollars within the community.
RFPs under review for Capital Improvement Plan
With Big Sky’s current CIP last completed in 2011 and not including Big Sky’s portion of Madison County, board members agreed in November to submit a request for proposals to update Big Sky’s capital strategy.
BSRAD’s plans to update the CIP will focus on the resort area district, which spans across the county line, and will define the future investment strategy for community public funds through long-term capital projects.
“It will be useful for Madison County planning as well,” noted board treasurer Steve Johnson.
Missoula-based WGM Group offered a quote of $233,000, and one other organization submitted a bid but the board questioned that quote during the meeting as it appeared dramatically lower.
“Bottom line is, we need to dig into [the proposals] and determine what the best option is for us to move forward,” Bierschwale said.
Board member Kevin Germain made a motion for the subcommittee to complete their review offline and take prompt action to secure a vendor while those offers stand.
BSFD: New truck, training facility and call volume growth
In fiscal year 2023, the fire department was awarded $1.795 million according to Fire Chief Greg Megaard. He told BSRAD that the fire board plans to submit a capital request for their planned fire training facility once they receive an invoice from the facility manufacturer in the next three to five weeks.
“We’re right on progress this year, we’ve already done our geo-test on the properties,” Megaard said. “We’re really excited to break ground, and hoping to get a foundation in as soon as the ground thaws.”
He added, “I can tell you it’s 20-plus years in the making to get a training facility where guys on duty can go and physically train and then respond to calls, without having to [leave Big Sky], send them down to Belgrade or somewhere else. The opportunity to do this in [Big Sky] is incredible.”
Megaard also spoke on “one of the bigger pieces of equipment Big Sky is going to come to the resort tax board for,” which is a replacement for their ladder truck. He said the fire board learned last week that the truck’s projected cost had risen from $1.5 to $2 million.
“Big Sky Fire has been very proactive in trying to put a little bit away in a restricted capital reserve to help offset that request,” Megaard said. “We feel pretty good with that so hopefully next year we’re not having to ask for that full $2 million.”
Citing supply chain difficulty, Megaard added that the truck would probably arrive 28-36 months after the order is placed.
“We’re trying to be very proactive getting in front of that,” he said.
Drawing on BSRAD’s celebration of 30 years, Megaard brought data to show Big Sky’s vast growth in demand for services. From a volunteer fire department in 1993, BSFD now has 31 full-time staff.
“We updated our master plan in 2019 and the projected [annual] call volume for 2040 was 1223 calls. In 2022 we [had] 1288 calls,” Megaard said, adding that the demand is indicative of the fire department’s other needs.
DEQ sees Canyon Water and Sewer District as ‘the best project in the state’
Scott Altman, who leads the three-person board working to create the Canyon Water and Sewer District and bring Big Sky’s portion of the Gallatin Canyon online with Big Sky’s new water resource recovery facility, provided an update to the board.
“In the next two months, we plan to really go out and try to bring everyone in the canyon area into our district,” Altman said. “It won’t be a service agreement yet, it’s just getting everybody on board which allows us to have a broader board of directors and get a lot more people involved with our plan.”
“We have a lot of buy-in from [the state Department of Environmental Quality] right now. They really want to see this project work as well.”
WGM Group provided a quote for engineering design, which Altman described as “really great” and expects to move forward in the upcoming weeks.
American Rescue Plan Act has awarded $2.75 million in funding to date, which can be used for the design phase, according to WGM engineer Mace Mangold who presented a tentative CWSD schedule.
Mangold added that more funding may be available and restricted to workforce housing, which would reserve some portion of future canyon development for workforce housing.
“If you talk to DEQ, they think this is the greatest project in the state. And it probably is,” Steve Johnson commented during brief discussion of a recent lawsuit from Upper Missouri Waterkeeper—an environmental nonprofit—targeting DEQ’s process with regards to Altman’s Quarry subdivision in the canyon.
Mangold said the DEQ recently gave an unofficial rating of CWSD’s effluent capacity, at about half a million gallons per day. He was hoping they’d rate the canyon for just 40% of that, or 200,000 GPD. This reclaimed wastewater would be rated class A-1 which carries a total nitrogen requirement.
Sheriff increases staffing coverage
Gallatin County Sheriff’s Sergeant Daniel Haydon provided an update to the board, saying that the Big Sky section of Sheriff’s Search and Rescue will no longer apply for individual budget but will be included in the Sheriff’s request for government services funding.
Haydon also announced increasing staffing coverage in Big Sky from Gallatin County Sheriff’s office.
In the next joint county commission meeting, both Madison and Gallatin counties will need to renew their agreement with BSRAD to continue splitting the cost of the Sheriff’s coverage in Big Sky.