Representatives make cases for appropriation requests
By Michael Somerby EBS DIGITAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – Representatives from 28 Big Sky organizations gathered in the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on June 3 for the 2019 Resort Tax Appropriations Q&A meeting, the only opportunity for the groups to field live questions from members of the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board.
Appropriation requests ranged from $23,500 for Big Sky Search and Rescue’s efforts to fund daily operations, training, gear maintenance and computer upgrades, to nearly $2.45 million requested by the Big Sky Community Housing Trust to cover the costs of staffing, down payment assistance, participation in various workforce housing projects around Big Sky, piloting a RENT LOCAL program and hiring consultants to effect zoning changes and explore Voluntary Real Estate Transfer Tax options.
Big Sky Fire Department Chief William Farhat, who was the first representative to field questions from the board regarding $916,971 in new requests and $145,000 in rollover requests to support needs pertaining to tourism-driven emergency-incident growth and replacing personal protection equipment, captured the essence of the meeting in a response to a comment from tax board Director Mike Scholz about the department’s Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating, which can affect insurance rates within a community.
“I think we’re doing our very best with what we have, and we work very hard at being efficient and transparent,” Farhat said. “Thrifty, when we can, save whenever we can and diversify our revenue streams.”
Funds available for appropriations were similar to collections of last year, approximately $8 million, but appropriation requests jumped from about $9.5 million for 2018-2019 to nearly $11.4 million for 2019-2020, meaning applicants had their work cut out for them in making a case for funding; subsequently, board members will be challenged in determining how to judiciously divvy collections.
“It’s no secret we’re stretched on funds this year,” Scholz said at the meeting.
Two appropriation requests broke the $1 million mark. The Big Sky Community Housing Trust’s nearly $2.45 million appropriation request, and the Big Sky Community Organization’s roughly $2.05 million for the operations and maintenance of BSCO-operated community parks and trail systems, and for the capital funding of infrastructure for 3.3 acres in Big Sky Town Center and the new 25,000 square foot community center.
“[The BSCO community center fundraising campaign is] successful, but it’s also huge. It’s the most ambitious goal we’ve ever done,” Ciara Wolfe, CEO of BSCO, said during the Q&A. “We’re asking for 8 percent of our goal to come from resort tax dollars, and that’s not just for the facility, that’s for all the public infrastructure associated with it.”
Laura Seyfang, program director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, said the board did an excellent job in treating each request and representative with respect, despite the uphill challenges ahead in distributing the $8 million available between the 28 requests that leave a $3.5 million disparity between requests and available funds.
“I was very pleased that it was such a non-adversarial discussion,” Seyfang said. “All of the organizations that were there each have really great causes and great needs, and they were treated with a lot of dignity and respect. I don’t think that anyone came out of there feeling discouraged because the board did a great job in creating the right atmosphere.”
Steve Johnson, vice chair of the tax board, credited in part a new process that prepared both the board and the organizations filing appropriations requests. This year, the board sent questions to organizations prior to the meeting, providing both parties space for ample preparedness and thoughtful consideration of requests.
“I was very pleased with our modification, asking questions in advance,” Johnson said. “[Groups seeking resort tax funds] were able to organize their answers.”
Johnson said this year’s spike in requests reflects new and growing community needs.
“We need to face the music,” Johnson said. “With the growth, it’s abundantly clear there are some screaming needs for important infrastructure projects.”
On May 2, Gov. Steve Bullock signed Senate Bill 241 into law, which, pending a community vote, would allow Big Sky and nine other resort tax communities around the state the ability to levy an additional 1 percent resort tax for infrastructural needs. Should Big Sky vote to enact that percentage, available funds could better balance future appropriation requests.
The Resort Tax Final Appropriations meeting will be held on June 10 at 6 p.m. at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.