Joint county commission meeting followed, covering broad range of issues
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce presented two back-to-back meetings to an audience of approximately 50 people to discuss community issues on Nov. 3 at the Wilson Hotel.
The chamber’s eighth Eggs & Issues kicked off the morning with presentations from county and community speakers on the local tax landscape and was followed by a joint-county commission meeting including leaders from Gallatin and Madison counties as well as the Big Sky Resort Area District board.
Caitlin Quisenberry, programming and events manager for the chamber, said this Eggs & Issues was about offering the community a fact-based, baseline understanding of taxes in Big Sky.
“It’s so easy to, as a community member, make assumptions, and then those assumptions become your gospel fact,” she said after the meeting. She hopes these meetings can help uproot those assumptions and replant them in fact.
Dan Clark, director of Montana State University’s Local Government Center, opened the meeting by laying out a philosophy of taxation, but also boiled down the general structure of taxes in Montana, Gallatin and Madison counties and eventually, Big Sky.
Clark said that about 45 percent of Montana’s statewide tax revenue comes from property taxes compared to the national figure of 24 percent. Gallatin County Chief Financial Officer Justine Swanson later revealed in her presentation that in Gallatin County, the portion is even greater at 64 percent.
The sole two legs of Montana’s metaphorical tax stool are property taxes and income taxes, Clark said, and Big Sky’s 4 percent resort tax is a stabilizing third leg for the local community.
Madison County Financial Officer Vicki Tilstra and Gallatin County’s Swanson each broke down how property taxes are calculated, debunking what they said are common misconceptions they hear. For example, Swanson said that though many assessed home values are currently spiking—many significantly, their property taxes will not grow to the same proportion.
Dax Schieffer, director of Voices of Montana Tourism, broke down Montana’s 8 percent lodging and bed tax, of which Big Sky is now the state’s largest contributor.
To cap the meeting, BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale refreshed the local audience on the history and utility of resort tax, a unique funding source in that it remains entirely within the Big Sky community.
In reflection of the meeting, chamber CEO Brad Niva said some of the feedback he gleaned from the Nov. 3 discussion was Big Sky community members’ concerns over how the taxes they pay to the county return to Big Sky.
“I think it’s just about being transparent and accountable and watching those funds,” he said.
Presenters each provided several examples of how county tax money ends up back in the Big Sky community, through costs for items like road work and special district elections.
“It’s great to see that Big Sky has such an engaged population,” Clark told EBS after the meeting. “People that are concerned, interested and involved to the point where we got a room full of people at eight o’clock on a Wednesday morning talking about taxes.”
The joint county commission meeting, which occurs in Big Sky twice a year, covered a range of topics from emergency response and evacuation planning to road infrastructure and tourism data.
BSRAD board trustee Kevin Germain reported that a joint subcommittee he serves on with Gallatin County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane and formerly Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart, who stepped down from the commission effective Oct. 30, recently met to discuss emergency response in Big Sky, an effort that will be further supported by a joint-county position beginning in 2022. The subcommittee will meet next to explore transportation.
“It is invaluable to bring together our local governments to ensure the success of Big Sky,” BSRAD Board Chair Sarah Blechta wrote in a statement to EBS. “By collectively identifying and working to address core community needs it demonstrates that we are truly better together.”