By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – On Feb. 4, the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board held an open board meeting in the Resort Tax office, its first in several months. The organization recently expanded operations into an adjacent office space, freeing real estate for its well-attended board meetings.
With an agenda of critical and year-defining items, the return held a semblance of pageantry. These items included the ratification of the language of the Infrastructure Interlocal Agreement with the Big Sky Water and Sewer District; viable means to implement the Our Big Sky Community Visioning Strategy; and tentative dates and procedural updates to the 2020 resort tax appropriations slated to be realized by late June.
The Resort Tax Board ratified the agreement language and the BSWSD board followed suit on Feb. 5, setting up a voter decision on the 1 percent increase on May 5 (see more on pg. 10), a date that doubles as the BSRAD’s election day.. The board then turned its attention to how it will realize the implementation of monthslong commissioned surveying and discussion, ultimately leading to BSRAD’s Community Strategic Plan, a platform on which the community voiced its opinions about the most important issues and initiatives in Big Sky.
A council comprised of community leaders, with Bierschwale representing BSRAD and the board’s newest member Ciara Wolfe representing the Big Sky Community Organization, of which she is CEO, aims to ensure the plan’s implementation “for the greater good of Big Sky.”
Legally speaking, BSRAD is not empowered to implement the strategic plan in the same way a traditional municipal government might.
“Trying to implement, that’s not our business,” Wolfe said. “[But] that doesn’t mean there’s no involvement in any capacity. This staff team would have an equal seat at the [council] table with everybody and I would hope this board uses that plan going forward to consider its allocations.”
While the board isn’t expected to implement, it is expected to fund, said BSRAD Vice Chair Steve Johnson. “When you look at the initiatives that were identified in the visioning strategy, so many of them involved multiple players …We need to be able to fund in a responsible way.”
Funding, in this context, is rendered through appropriations of the resort tax collected by qualifying businesses on various luxuries and goods and services, per an ordinance revised in November 2019. This year’s collections are expected to outpace last year’s roughly $8 million, but with single appropriations sometimes totaling in the millions, the amount available was still nearly $3 million short of the total requests from community groups and organizations.
For the resort tax board, the appropriations process needs some tweaking in order to best serve the vetted interests of the requesting groups, with two key changes: The first will be splitting the appropriations meeting into two shorter sessions rather than one lengthy affair in order to curtail “fatigue”—a measure geared at affording fresh attention to each applicant, no matter their position in the session lineup.
The second adjustment will be to enhance lines of communication and understanding between members of the board leading into the appropriations sessions, so there will be a measure of expectation on how various board members will vote.
Following the April 30 application deadline, the board will also have the opportunity to ask questions of the staff and the applicants, ensuring minimal friction and maximum preparation come June 10.
As of press time, the BSRAD appropriation meeting dates are set for June 10 and 17.