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Resort tax board nears closure on question of taxing private clubs



By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – After more than four months of back-and-forth about whether or not to apply resort tax to private clubs, the Big Sky Resort Area District resort tax board is zeroing in on a central component of the question—a definition for “destination ski resort” and “destination recreational facility.”

Resort tax board chair Mike Scholz is looking for language that more clearly indicates whether or not private clubs like the Yellowstone Club are taxable so resort tax compliance officers can act with clearer guidance. “We need to quit dancing around it [and] say whether or not a private club is or isn’t a destination,” he said at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting.

Board member Heather Budd advised against wording that’s too specific out of concern that it could unfairly tie the hands of future boards. “If we pin ourselves down to a definition that is very focused, I think that is a disservice,” she said. “The area is constantly evolving.”

In reference to applying the tax to private clubs, Budd brought up Moonlight Basin, which recently became private. “Does that mean that the items it sells are no longer taxable?” she asked.

Board member Jamie Kabisch said that reading about the amenities highlighted on the Yellowstone Club’s website makes it sound a lot like a destination, citing seven restaurants, health and wellness facilities, retail and rental businesses, and a family center. “That kind of sounds like a destination,” he said, acknowledging that the membership and property owner aspect complicates the question.

The board discussed several options before unanimously agreeing upon one provided by BSRAD legal council Betsy Griffing.

It’s based upon a definition used in the tourism trade and characterizes a destination ski resort or destination recreational facility as “a facility that offers amenities, including but not limited to, food, drink, lodging, sports, entertainment, convention support, and shopping within the facility so that tourists or visitors do not need to leave the facility throughout their vacation.”

The next step in this continuing taxation puzzle will be figuring out whether or not the definition applies to specific clubs. Scholz said there’s more work to come and the board knows that it must determine which facilities fall under that definition.

The board is also moving forward with an ordinance amendment that will allow it to disperse resort tax allocations over a three-year period for particularly large and long-term projects. The board generally appears to be in agreement on that issue and will likely make a decision at its next meeting.

At the close of the meeting, current board member Ginna Hermann announced that she will not be pursuing a third term on the resort tax board in 2018. She said it’s been fun working with the board, participating in the change BSRAD has undergone, and getting to know organizations, executive directors and community members better.

Budd’s seat will also be open and she said she’s undecided about whether or not she’s going to seek another term.

On Dec. 20, Gallatin County Election Administrator Charlotte Mills said one person, Steve Johnson, has officially announced his candidacy for the position. Johnson is a retired resident who serves on a number of local boards including the Big Sky Zoning District Advisory Committee.

The outcome of that election will be decided by mail-in ballot on May 8. Registered voters who live within the district can vote. Mills said candidates could start announcing effective on Dec. 14, 2017, and the last day to announce is Feb. 12, 2018.

Prior to the start of the Dec. 13 meeting, attendee Sarah Blechta said she intends to file for candidacy in early 2018 as well. In addition to her role as the vice president of the Morningstar Learning Center board, Blechta is the property owners association manager for Yellowstone Club.

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