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Resort Tax board discusses fire department, performing arts center, town hall meeting

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By Tyler Allen Staff Writer

BIG SKY – The Resort Tax Board held its monthly meeting Sept. 12, addressing topics including the Big Sky Fire Department, the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, an upcoming town hall/community meeting, and administrative issues concerning the board.

In attendance were board members Les Loble, Mike Scholz, Jamey Kabisch, and administrative officer Whitney Brunner. Board member Ginna Hermann and tax board attorney Mona Jamison participated via conference call and board member Jeff Strickler was absent on vacation.

The meeting began with a presentation from Big Sky Fire Chief William Farhat, who thanked the board for its support in the form of $437,000 last year. Farhat wanted to discuss what “the best path is going forward,” noting he hopes to expand resources and personnel available to the department.

“There are a number of capital improvements coming in the next 15 years,” Farhat said. More immediately, he said, the department is in “critically poor shape” going into winter since two firefighters recently left and a third will be gone in November.

“The department will have a very difficult time responding to the multiple calls we get during the winter,” he said. “The closest help we have is the Yellowstone Club, which is 20 minutes away.” If they’re busy, the next closest help is 40 – 50 minutes away, which he later described as a “devastatingly long time.”

The board agreed some of the shortfall should be made up by an increase in the mill levy.

“There is a perception that the mill levy serves the native population sufficiently,” said board chairman Loble. “We have to make the case that the increase will serve the [local] population.”

“A mill levy increase could prove that [Big Sky] wants to be a world-class community,” Kabisch said.

Next, Loren Bough, President of Friends of Big Sky Education, explained that the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center has met its fundraising goal of $1.353 million. The remaining $494,415 in cost will be paid this fall by resort tax, which allocated the money contingent upon WMPAC reaching its fundraising objective. Construction began on Aug. 14 and should be completed in December, Bough said.

Hermann raised a concern that nonprofits would be charged $200 per day to use the facility, pointing out that fee structure was a discrepancy with the application presented to the board, which stated a fee of $150. “I’m afraid of a slippery slope here,” Hermann said. “Our goal is to provide entertainment to the community.”

The money would be used to fix broken light bulbs and pay the janitorial staff for general upkeep of the facility, Bough said. None of the other board members present agreed with Hermann’s contention.

The board also discussed holding a town hall or community meeting in December or January, because it’s “in everybody’s interest to have a dialogue with the community,” Loble said.

In the administrative report, Whitney Brunner noted there had only been $163,000 in resort tax collected (by the Sept. 11 meeting) in July, the lowest for that month since 2005. Loble suggested there may have been more delinquencies than usual.

Loble also brought up the Big Sky Institute, which received resort tax funding in 2008 and 2009. In 2008, the board approved $43,000 for architectural drawings – despite the fact the building was never constructed – and in 2009 the board approved $57,000 to fund the first year of the MSU and Big Sky Community Education Partnership.

“I find it troubling this stuff happens,” Loble said. “Montana State University has the ground next to the [Ophir] school and won’t relinquish it, even though it was donated.”

The next Resort Tax Board meeting will be Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 11 a.m.

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