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Resort tax board awards $8M to Big Sky applicants

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By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – The Big Sky Resort Area District board this week awarded nearly $8 million in resort tax funding to 63 projects proposed over the next fiscal year.

At the second application review meeting on June 9, the five-member board reviewed motions it made during the first meeting on June 6 and ratified most of them without change. Three of the project applications received amended amounts of funding.

Just two out of the 66 total projects requesting fiscal year 2023 funding were given zero dollars: a $90,000 request from Visit Big Sky for Community Event Sponsorship and a $56,000 request from Big Sky Discovery Academy for Teacher Housing Stipends.

One other project, a $5,400 request from Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization for Town Center Recycling and Composting, was withdrawn by the organization after two other groups agreed to absorb the project.

This year was the first year the board used its new scoring system, which defines a score under 70 as “not recommended for funding.” Twenty-five projects received failing scores that were passed with the addition of a contract contingency requiring a score consultation with the resort tax Board Chair.

“Moving forward, I hope that everybody really does everything they can do to get the highest score they possibly can for next year,” said Board Chair Sarah Blechta in a June 10 interview with EBS.

One way that an organization can improve its score is through collaboration and submission of joint applications in the new system. Throughout the allocations process this year, the board emphasized the need for collaboration and even added the requirement of a collaboration letter to three projects prior to releasing funds. 

CEO of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky Brad Niva give public comment at the June 9 application review meeting. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

“We want Big Sky to thrive,” Blechta said, “and the way that Big Sky thrives is for us all to work together.” 

One of the projects the board earmarked for collaboration was the Little Coyote Pond and Westfork River Restoration project submitted by the Big Sky Owners Association. The board voted to fund this project for $262,000, half of the requested amount. Three board members said they support the restoration work, but not the recreational amenities included in the project.

The board asked that BSOA work with Big Sky Community Organization, Gallatin River Task Force and the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District to make sure all the organizations’ restoration efforts are aligned to the same big-picture goal.

The board also voted to reduce funding for the $80,000 Sustainable Tourism Materials request from VBS opting to fund the ask at $40,000 after an extended discussion. The board received five public comments in support of funding the full amount at the meeting, including from VBS CEO Brad Niva.

“This is one of the first phase[s] of our destination management,” Niva said. “We cannot manage visitors if we don’t communicate with visitors.”

Board member Kevin Germain expressed his support for funding the project in full.

“I think [the] chamber and VBS have really responded to where we’re at in our cycle: we don’t need to promote tourism; we need to manage the tourists that are coming here, and that’s exactly what this accomplishes,” he said. 

Vice Chair Ciara Wolfe proposed the motion to fund the VBS request at $40,000 which was ultimately passed by the board.

“I felt that it was a compromise that would meet both the pros of that sustainability marketing campaign but also meet the recognition that it may not be the highest priority,” Wolfe said in a June 10 interview with EBS.

She added that funding the request at 50 percent would allow the organization to do the campaign and to be smart with how they use those dollars.

Executive Director of Wellness in Action MaryBeth Morand addresses the resort tax board during the June 6 meeting. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

The final change of the evening was the board’s decision to fully fund Wellness in Action’s $231,000 request for the Counseling Services Hub-Building Remodel after Executive Director MaryBeth Morand was able to procure an eight-year contract for the building.

In addition to the awards, the district made at the meetings, it also has $5.1 million in preexisting interlocal commitments including the 1 percent for infrastructure commitment and the TIGER Grant commitment, among others.

“The board continues to focus on objective decision making in the context of areas of impact and community need,” said BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale. “The investments and commitments that were made in FY 23 were a result of a continually refined process that we will continue to work with the community and applicants to ensure that the needs of Big Sky are being met.”

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