By Tyler Allen EBS Managing Editor
BIG SKY – When voters in the Big Sky Resort Area District choose two new board members in the May 8 election, the new electees will quickly be thrust into the public spotlight.
The appropriations process begins with an applicant Q&A on June 4 at 1 p.m., held at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, where the board will grill applicants in front of the community.
The four candidates in this year’s election had their first chance to take center stage at an April 2 forum at Buck’s T-4 Lodge, hosted by Top Shelf Toastmasters and broadcast live on EBS Facebook. They answered three questions supplied in advance by the Toastmasters, as well as a number of questions written and submitted by some of the approximately 60 community members in attendance.
Sarah Blechta, Paul “Buz” Davis, Steve Johnson and Craig Smit introduced themselves to voters and described their qualifications for managing the resort tax funds, which will have a projected $7.6 million available for appropriations this year. The 3-percent tax is collected on “luxury” goods and services, and funds public infrastructure, organizations and tourism initiatives in this unincorporated resort community.
After an introduction of the two school district board candidates running unopposed for two open seats—Matt Jennings and Margo Magnant—resort tax board member Jamey Kabisch took the podium to speak about the heavy workload expected of these volunteer positions. After mentioning how the new board members will immediately jump into the appropriations process, he joked that they will also be expected to attend “very short monthly meetings” that can last up to four or five hours.
Blechta highlighted her long history in Big Sky, growing up here but having had to leave for secondary school, since Lone Peak High School was not built at the time. With the only two female BSRAD members—Ginna Hermann and Heather Budd—leaving the board, she said, “I think I pretty clearly represent females as the only female candidate.”
As the director of property owners associations at the Yellowstone Club, she was specifically asked about a conflict of interest, given her employer. “I can honestly say the Yellowstone Club did not ask me to run,” she said. “I can’t vote on issues that are a conflict of interest. You abstain. And I can’t say that enough.”
Davis became a part-time Big Sky resident in 2012 and moved here full time in 2015. He said he’s been a community consultant for more than 30 years, work that included leading the resort tax board through a strategic planning process in 2012 and 2013.
“I’ve always loved Big Sky and now that I’ve retired I want to be able to give back to Big Sky,” he said.
Johnson has lived in Big Sky fulltime for 17 years, following a career with the professional consulting firm Accenture. He is a former Big Sky Community Organization board member, and current member of the Gallatin Canyon/Big Sky Zoning Advisory Committee, a trustee of the trails and parks district, and a fire district board member. He said he’s “been a student of this place” through his volunteer work.
“I’ve been unemployed and retired completely since I moved to Big Sky,” he said. “I don’t work for anybody here, so I’m completely independent.”
After attending Montana State University, Smit moved here in 1990 and stressed that he’s in touch with the locals and the importance of “fair and equitable taxation.” He’s the former owner of the Conoco gas station, and currently owns LTD Real Estate and sits on the board of the South Fork Phase II homeowners association—with Blechta—as well as the Blue Grouse Condos homeowners association.
“Being here for 28 years, and having a real estate company of my own here, it’s important for me to see growth in the area and the money well spent [to] enhance all our lives.”
Watch the candidates discuss their positions on resort tax funding priorities, the use of bonding authority, and the board’s future role in the community at facebook.com/explorebigsky/videos/1731828146856332/.
Resort tax applications are due by April 30 and the district will mail a newsletter in mid-May to all voters in the district—this newsletter will include all of the applications and details of the public appropriations process.
Election ballots will be mailed to voters in the Big Sky Resort Area District on April 23, and due to the Gallatin County Election Office by Tuesday, May 8, at 8 p.m.