Moves to online resort tax applications
By Bay Stephens LOCAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – The Big Sky Resort Area District board reviewed the woes and successes of the 2019/2020 allocations process at the July 10 meeting in the resort tax office, agreeing that the caliber of decisions made with the $8.4 million in collections this year is not best done in one four-hour, evening meeting.
BSRAD District Manager Daniel Bierschwale also announced that the district signed a contract with Bozeman-based Foundant Technologies for grant software that will allow resort tax applicants to apply for appropriations online, simplifying the process for future years.
All board members agreed that the current structure for allocating resort tax collections to area nonprofits was not ideal for making the best decisions.
“The idea of doing 28 of these on a stage in four hours is a preposterous way to manage the kind of money we’re trying to manage,” Vice Chair Steve Johnson said. “If we could parse those up and consider them and make decisions on them based on projections and then finalize it once the final numbers come in, I think we can have a much more meaningful process.”
BSRAD Chair Kevin Germain agreed, citing the Gallatin County budget-setting process as a better model to emulate as it allows reflection on preliminary decisions before finalization.
“I felt like it was a long meeting and we started making brash decisions … There was a heavy fatigue factor in that,” Germain said.
“No one in business anywhere sits down and makes a budget and says, ‘OK, this is it,’” Director Mike Scholz said. “It worked years ago [for resort tax], but it is a bigger and more complicated thing now.”
Concepts such as reviewing the larger requests earlier in the fiscal year and tentatively allocating funds, followed by the smaller requests, or having a more stringent application for larger-sum applicants were aired during discussion. The board tasked Bierschwale to return to the board with recommendations on how the process could be improved at a future meeting, which he said he’d do in concert with the incoming operations manager, who is yet to be hired.
It wasn’t all bad, however. The board, along with representatives from several applicant organizations in attendance, agreed that sending out questions to applicants prior to the Q&A session provided clearer and more substantive answers for the board as well as less stress on applicants.
The board approved the final resolution of allocated funds from the June 10 meeting, after clarifying conditions attached to the monies allocated to the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Big Sky Community Housing Trust.
The grant software the district recently signed for, which may require a heavy lift for applicants in the first year, will call for far less work in following years, according to BSRAD District Manager Daniel Bierschwale.
“I think that’s going to drastically improve the [application] process both for the board and for the applicants as well, so I’m excited about that,” Bierschwale said.
The board also outlined how it will approach ordinance revision, a months-long process ahead intended to clarify what is subject to resort tax in the district. The board has their sights set on definitively elucidating whether alcohol sold at Big Sky convenience and grocery stores should be taxed, among other items.
Prior to the meeting, Bierschwale had solicited feedback from board members on how they thought the ordinance ought to be amended, which he then submitted to BSRAD’s attorney Kimberly A. Beatty, who was in attendance. The current timeline for the revision process involves the board providing a “guiding document” that will clarify their intent by July 18, which, along with the written feedback provided by Bierschwle, Beatty will use to draft a revised ordinance for board review at the August meeting.
The board had an additional meeting on July 18 that did not align with EBS press cycle, but will be covered in the next edition of the paper, as well as online.