BY EBS STAFF
As an unincorporated community without a mayor or city planner, Big Sky residents turn to elected officials at the county level to exercise a measure of control over the allocation of their property taxes and to direct land use policy.
Among other things, Gallatin County’s three-person commission oversees planning and zoning, infrastructure development and maintenance, and the county budget. Commissioners are elected for six-year terms and appoint 200-plus county residents to more than 34 boards and commissions.
On Oct. 5, the two candidates shared their position on issues pertaining to Big Sky at a candidate forum held at the Gallatin County Community Center in Gateway. Moderated by Bozeman’s League of Women Voters, here are some of the remarks from two-term incumbent Republican Joe Skinner and Democratic challenger Brian Leland.
What are your recommendations for increasing affordable housing in Big Sky?
Skinner: “I don’t think the government is responsible for fixing the problem of affordable housing. Big Sky’s affordable housing problem was created by Big Sky, and the community knows that up there and they’re working to solve it. [There are some things we can do like changing zoning and] reducing regulations and fees so developers can produce buildings that are affordable.
“But I’m opposed to using the county general fund in some way to fund affordable housing.”
Leland: “We have totally disconnected the price of land and housing—in Gallatin County, Bozeman, [and the] Big Sky area—from your ability to make money here. Unfortunately, when you start doing breaks and subsidies and all sorts of things trying to create affordable housing, you essentially give an advantage to someone who lives in affordable subsidized housing over someone who has to live at the mercy of the market.
“I don’t know what the silver bullet is for affordable housing, but I can tell you right now I will not throw [Gallatin] Gateway under the bus to provide a man camp arrangement right outside the city … I would not do the same thing up in Big Sky either.”
Where do you stand on the proposed Law and Justice Center?
Skinner: As a commissioner, I’m not supposed to advocate for it, but as a candidate I would definitely advocate for it. I think it’s a great project, I think it will save [the county] millions of dollars by working with the city [to do it now].”
Leland: “There’s no doubt whatsoever that we need a new Law and Justice center, that’s a given. I’m just really disappointed, quite frankly, in a lack of strategic planning in the construction of the jail back in 2008 when the county had a great opportunity to move to a different site that was going to be a lot more beneficial to the county as a whole … It’s up to voters to decide.”
Do you support funding the Skyline bus system?
Skinner: “Why do people ride the bus to Big Sky? Because they’re working for those big corporations, building their things, working for their ski runs. So I do think they have a responsibility to pay for their fair share … The people that are riding the bus up there, three quarters of them probably, like [Leland] said, are working up there. A quarter of them are skiers, so we’re subsidizing skiers to take the bus and ride to Big Sky to ski and I don’t think that’s right.”
Leland: I don’t see a reason why in the world Gallatin County shouldn’t also toss into the pot … It benefits everyone in Gallatin County for people to have public transportation … Anything we can do to get traffic off [Highway 191] is going to benefit Gallatin County.”