By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
The September board meeting for the Big Sky Resort Area District covered two heavy-hitting topics: the unveiling of a Big Sky Community Capital Improvement Plan, and a separate discussion about a group of diverse local stakeholders exploring the basic foundations of a municipal government for Big Sky.
A draft of Big Sky’s capital improvement plan will be presented for approval at the bi-annual Madison-Gallatin Joint County Commission Meeting on Oct. 4 in Big Sky.
In the past year, the BSRAD board recognized an opportunity to update Big Sky’s existing capital improvement plan, assembled in 2011 for zoning purposes and excluding the Madison County portion of Big Sky.
According to the report’s executive summary, the CIP is intended to answer six questions:
- What will be built, repaired, replaced or purchased?
- Who is responsible for the project?
- When is this project scheduled to take place?
- Where will this project be located?
- Why is this project being undertaken?
- How are we going to pay for it?
A draft of that report is now complete. Colin McAweeney, fiscal/economic analyst with contractor TischlerBise, presented the findings to the board. McAweeney said the process involved interviews with 16 local districts and organizations to survey upcoming infrastructure needs.
The CIP identified $741 million in recommended infrastructure investments over the next decade. Those capital needs are spread across six categories, with more than 83% combined between housing and public works—water and sewer, and transportation infrastructure.
Some capital need amounts were estimated using a model that projects Big Sky’s peak population—combining permanent and seasonal residents and overnight visitors—to grow by 48% in the next ten years. Within that total, Big Sky’s year-round population would grow from 3,268 in 2023 to 4,841 in 2033, according to the projection.
The report factored population growth into 10-year service and infrastructure needs.
Board members discussed the gap between current funding mechanisms available to BSRAD and the mounting costs of infrastructure improvements.
“I just want the public to understand… these are huge dollar amounts and a huge gap between what we currently have available to us as tools to fund—and what we will need to have available to us,” said board member Ciara Wolfe.
Board Treasurer Steve Johnson added that beyond BSRAD, several local government district boards will need to step up and use their bonding capacity to invest in needed infrastructure.
“Resort tax is not going to be able to answer all of this, by any near stretch. So, have some coffee, start figuring it out. This is a challenge to the community,” Johnson said.
Board member Kevin Germain agreed.
“This is not resort tax. This is community. This is Montana, this is federal… It’s just getting everything in one document,” Germain said. He recommended that BSRAD continue to update the CIP each year as long-term needs continue to take shape.
Wolfe pointed out—and other board members agreed—that local entities will need to prioritize funding needs and communicate which are most urgent as the community works to raise nearly three-quarter of a billion dollars. She noted that there would have to be “some differentiation between critical needs, and wants.”
“The [BSRAD] board is going to need to think about prioritization as well,” said Daniel Bierschwale, executive director of BSRAD. “I think $741 million is clearly outside the scope of what our capability is.”
The capital improvement plan adds a significant challenge, but also adds detail to the Big Sky Roadmap. Also included on that roadmap is a five-year “potential solution” to incorporate Big Sky as a municipality.
That topic was discussed at length during Wednesday’s meeting after the CIP presentation.