Here’s what you need to know about applications
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The Big Sky Resort Area District board and staff met on June 7 for the first of two meetings to review $8.5 million in resort tax funding requests for 48 projects from 26 applicants.
The projects vary widely from focus to cost, with about 61 percent of project applications under $100,000, about 31 percent over $100,000 and 8 percent of applications attached to three-year government operations requests.
For the first time ever, the district piloted a scoring system to help “increase objectivity” in the board’s applications review, according to Board Chair Kevin Germain. The system strongly considers three aspects of projects: collaboration, planning and efficiency. Projects received scores out of 100 based on the evaluation of criteria such as financial sustainability, forecasting accuracy and partnerships. Leading up to the meeting, board members were able to review project scores alongside applications.
Per the board’s request, the district staff prepared recommended awards for each project and introduced them to kick off the review process. In addition to looking at the categories each applicant identified their projects fell within, the district staff examined and categorized projects by outcome. The three categories based on outcome are infrastructure, which BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale defined as capital purchases that produce a tangible result and last more than a year; programs and services, which involve direct mission delivery like mental health programming or food bank services; and administration and operations.
The district staff’s recommendations were informed by a philosophy that considered matching funds applicants brought to the table, as well as their suggested prioritization of projects by outcome, placing infrastructure at the top, followed by programs and services and then administration and operations.
The board made preliminary decisions on all projects and will finalize the awards at a June 10 meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Here’s a breakdown of the applications being considered.
As a local government entity, the resort tax district can enter into interlocal agreements with other local government entities like special districts. In the interest of placing a heavier focus on future planning, the district called for applications from such entities for their next three years of resort tax requests to fund operations, beginning with the current fiscal year 2022.
This year, for the first time, the board will approve awards for the next three years for the Big Sky Fire Department, Big Sky Transportation District, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and the new Gallatin Canyon Water and Sewer District. For FY22, government entities’ operational requests make up about 25 percent of total asks.
Behind government operations, housing projects collectively total about 22 percent of requests. The Big Sky Community Housing Trust applied for funding for several projects, including a request for $1.1 million to acquire land for a future workforce housing development. Workforce housing is a growing issue in Big Sky as the market drives property values up—the trust recently reported that the average sales price for a single-family home was nearly $2.5 million in 2020. Other housing requests include funds for a rent local incentive program, the RiverView workforce housing project and the Housing Trust’s operations.
Funding requests identified by applicants as economic development projects made up about 13 percent of all requests and the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky were the sole applicants with projects in this category. VBS made a more than half-million-dollar request for destination marketing, which received several critiques from the public. Public commenters expressed observations of increasing visitation with a lack of infrastructure to keep up with it. VBS also requested funds for market research and both VBS and the Chamber requested funds for staffing and operations.
Public Health and Safety
Only two projects were self-identified as public health and safety. The Big Sky Fire Department requested over $1 million for a capital project, which it recently adjusted to $450,000 with matching funds available. Big Sky Search and Rescue also requested $53,500 for training and equipment. Nonoperational projects for entities in the government category, like the Fire Department’s capital project, are not included in the three-year interlocal agreements and will be requested on an annual basis.
Recreation and Conservation
Recreation and conservation projects made up the largest portion of projects but clocked in at about 14 percent of the total funds requested. With the exception of the Big Sky Community Organization’s $675,243 request for operations funds, all recreation and conservation project requests were under $100,000. Applicants for recreational projects include the Big Sky Skating & Hockey Association, Gallatin Valley Snowmobile Association, the Big Sky Trails Recreation and Parks District and BSCO.
The Gallatin River Task Force applied for funding for several projects, including a water conservation program, two restoration projects and operations. The Gallatin Invasive Species Alliance also requested funds for administration, education and outreach and stewardship, the Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization applied for funding for recycling and composting programs and the Montana Land Reliance applied for funds to help conserve land in Big Sky.
Though the district staff’s project evaluation by outcome found that nearly 50 percent of projects were categorized in infrastructure, including the 1 percent for infrastructure water and sewer project, only 9 percent of project applications are categorized as infrastructure. Infrastructural projects costing more than $100,000 include GRTF’s Water Supply Resiliency projects, operations funds for The Post Office, LLC, and BSCO’s maintenance facility. Projects under $100,000 include GRFT’s nutrient reduction projects for the upper Gallatin, equipment for the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation and a wildlife and transportation conflict assessment for U.S. Highway 191.
Community Development and Social Services
Community development and social services projects made up 11 percent of total requests. More expensive projects included funding for the Arts Council of Big Sky’s 2022 Music in the Mountains, cultural programming at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center and a tuition assistance program for Morningstar Learning Center.
Smaller-ticket items included more funding for BSSEF to hire an event coordinator, the Big Sky Community Food Bank services, behavioral health programming through Women In Action, Montessori education through the Big Sky Discovery Academy and funding for the Big Sky Community Library.