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Resort tax board gears up for tough appropriations

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PHOTO BY SCOT GRAHAM

BSRAD board holds Q&A with applicants

By Bella Butler EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – Leading up to the first resort tax appropriation since the Big Sky Resort Area District board voted to temporarily adopt a biannual appropriation cycle, the board held a virtual Q&A on June 3 with the 26 entities that have applied for Fiscal Year 21 funds.

With faces sheathed in masks, a socially distanced BSRAD board gathered for an evening of discussion. Moderated by BSRAD operations manager Jenny Muscat, applicants appeared in the meeting via Zoom.

With slim funds compared to most previous years and unknown COVID-19 impacts on upcoming collections, BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale said that the pandemic amplified the urgency to apply the strategic plan adopted by BSRAD in April of this year, which seeks to “fairly collect tax for strategic investments to ensure the wellbeing of the Big Sky community.”

In opening the meeting, Bierschwale pointed to the Strategic Investments pillar of the plan, which tasks the board with strengthening relationships with the public funds and philanthropic communities within Big Sky as well as to push Madison and Gallatin counties to match funds and support Big Sky equitably.

“You’re going to see pushes from resort tax in working to partner with our counties and ensure that we have alignment on budgetary priorities and priorities in Big Sky,” Bierschwale said. “You’re also going to see, similar to what you’ve seen with Big Sky Relief, our organization working closely to make sure we’re collaborating and partnering with our philanthropic community… You’re most certainly going to see us more involved with finding ways to align ourselves together in a more thoughtful and strategic way.”

Including conservative collection projections for May and June, BSRAD predicts to have roughly $6.3 million available for appropriations. An undetermined portion of this total will be divvied amongst applicants for the next six months, and the remaining total will pair with collections from July through November to be allocated in November. The total funds requested by applicants for the entire fiscal year officially sits at just under $7.4 million, however some applicants did pledge to lower their individual requests during the Q&A.

In line with the strategic plan, board members asked multiple applicants if they already received county and other outside funds and if not, what those options may look like. Some applicants, like the Gallatin River Task Force and the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, demonstrated already having decided to dip into their own reserve funds to ease the burden on the resort tax money pool.

In addition to looking for areas to collaborate and draw funds from other entities, BSRAD also considered opportunities to push projects and applicants who didn’t demonstrate immediate need to the fall appropriations. In their initial list of considerations and guiding philosophies, these opportunities were suggested as winter-based, conservation and research projects.

The Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association and the Gallatin Valley Snowmobile Association both agreed to consider the option of pushing their applications to the fall cycle, and the Arts Council of Big Sky, which will not be footing the bill for the canceled Music in the Mountains series this summer, agreed to do the same.

Many applicants expressed appreciation and awareness of the added burden of the resort tax board this year as they pleaded their cases.

“I think anyone in the community that is a nonprofit right now is really nervous about where this could put any one of us… but at the same time, we are sympathetic to what the leaders in the community are doing with limited allocation money,” Ryan Newcomb, GRTF’s director of development said following the meeting.

Prior to the meeting, one of the questions that the board posed to applicants was, “What happens to your projects/programs or organization if you do not receive Resort Tax funding?”

Bierschwale said that “we live in alarming times” with no collections guarantees, a reality that makes for tough decisions for the board. “We need to understand that if tough decisions are going to be made, what those impacts would be.”

The board will hold open meetings on June 10 and June 17 to discuss the applications and make allocation decisions.

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