Two significant meetings reveal potential futures for Big Sky
By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – On the morning of Nov. 6, roughly 100 Big Sky residents, various board representatives and members of the business community gathered in The Wilson Hotel Residence Inn Ballroom for back-to-back meetings hosted by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce: the biannual “Eggs and Issues” community discussion meeting and Gallatin-Madison Joint County Commission Meeting.
Launching at 8:30 a.m., once attendees had secured heaping plates of eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, breads and yogurt, this latest Eggs and Issues presentation focused solely on the Big Sky Resort Area District’s official unveiling of their commissioned Our Big Sky Community Visioning Strategy.
The BSRAD tax board annually allocates funds collected via a 3 percent resort tax levied on “Goods and Services” and “Luxuries” to various Big Sky organizations and projects. In hopes of better informing allocation decision-making, the board tapped consulting firm Logan Simpson to spearhead a survey process that highlighted community values.
Logan Simpson subsequently created a 48-page report that, among other items, broke down four key “Visioning Strategies” based on responses and feedback collected since February when the Community Visioning Strategy was officially launched. These categories are “Our People,” “Our Character,” “Our Recreation” and “Our Natural Environment.”
“I’m just so encouraged Big Sky has finally decided to do this, after being here for decades,” said former BSRAD Assistant Manager Whitney Brunner, now a project manager for Logan Simpson. “This is a tipping point for the community … something is different about this time in Big Sky.”
A bucket of cold water: Logan Simpson’s study estimated rough costs associated with carrying out the 7-to-10 initiatives listed underneath each “Visioning Strategies” heading—“Our People” alone will consume an estimated $82 million, with “Our Recreation” requiring an estimated $57 million over the next decade or so.
For context, since its 1992 inception, BSRAD has allocated some $70 million.
Brunner acknowledged the disparity, but also noted the impressive rates of growth experienced by Big Sky; looking at allocations from the past 27 years poorly represents the quantity that will be collected and then allocated over the next 27 years.
“There were a lot of initiatives unveiled today, pretty broad strokes that identify the needs of the community. Now the question becomes how are we going to dissect those and really begin to move the needle on addressing those strategies within the community,” said BSRAD District Manager Daniel Bierschwale. “I think Logan Simpson has above and beyond engaged the community, so I feel good with the data we have.”
The plan will be reviewed by the BSRAD for final amendments and approval at their next open board meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Eggs and Issues finished with time to spare, around 9:20 a.m., allowing attendees to stretch their legs and re-up on food provided by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce via funding from their sponsors, before returning to their seats at 10 a.m. for the start of the Gallatin-Madison Joint County Commission Meeting.
Before a panel composed of Commissioners Joe Skinner and Don Seifert of Gallatin County and Commissioners Dan Allhands and Jim Hart of Madison County, various members of Big Sky and surrounding communities voiced progress and concerns on a host of topics, ranging from Real ID registration, to 911 radios feasibility, to fiber optic internet infrastructure and preparing for the 2020 census, among other topics.
Initiating with a public comment session, Big Sky Community Organization CEO Ciara Wolfe took the podium, representing the advisory committee that helped oversee the Community Visioning Strategy. She urged the commissioners to consider their role in facilitating implementation and resource gathering for a community that, while relatively small in terms of permanent residency, constitutes a relatively large economic contributor for both counties.
First on the agenda was the discussion of building out the Madison County portion of Jack Creek Road, led by Madison County Commissioner Hart and BSRAD Chairperson and Moonlight Basin vice president Kevin Germain, so that should the road be used as an egress in the event of a disaster, there isn’t a bottleneck effect on the 3 miles under Madison County jurisdiction.
“I have worries not only about the physical viability but also about the financial viability,” Hart said. “We’re not gonna get her done tomorrow, and I’m sure you realize that. It’s going to be a minimum of five years, and $15 million dollars. That’s an educated guess … There’s some challenges.”
“There are a lot of tax dollars from here going to Madison County that can help fund it,” Germain rebutted to applause from the crowd.
Next, Tim Kent, chair of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, filled in for housing trust program director Laura Seyfang.
Kent detailed efforts by the housing trust to bring affordable housing to Big Sky, noting the solid progress made with projects like the Meadowview Condominiums, Big Sky’s first deed-restricted workforce housing project, and with building out a platform that encourages the proliferation of long-term rentals in town.
Among other presentations, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce Programming and Events Manager Caitlin Quisenberry, filling in for chamber CEO Candace Carr Strauss, spoke to the importance of the upcoming 2020 census.
“Starting this March, [the U.S. Census Bureau] will be sending out the census documents, and it’s very important [to participate] as far as federal funding goes for our community,” Quisenberry said.
Commissioner Seifert echoed her request, adding, “If you employ [seasonal] people, please urge them to call this [Big Sky] home.”
Visit Big Sky Board Chairman Timothy Drain, also filling in for Carr Strauss but this time in her role as CEO of Visit Big Sky, followed, speaking to the launch of the new Big Sky Sustainability Committee, a group seeking sustainable options for Big Sky’s future in the face of mounting evidence of climate change. He also touched upon the importance of urging constituents and Big Sky residents to begin to work toward obtaining REAL ID certification, necessary for all domestic travel, among other federal uses, effective Oct. 1, 2020.
Drain noted that Department of Motor Vehicle offices across the region are already booked out months in advance as citizens nationwide rush to obtain a REAL ID before the deadline.
Last, AE2S Senior Project Manager Scott Buecker spoke to Big Sky Water and Sewer wastewater treatment plant upgrades, lauding the district’s ability in never discharging into a waterway, something he aspires to maintain as the community grows through the construction of a larger facility.
Currently, BSWSD is in talks with BSRAD to invoke the additional 1 percent option, used solely for infrastructure projects, that has yet to be levied in Big Sky. Other sources of funding that might be possible include a Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund loan or minor grant, and a general obligation or revenue bond.
Buecker was later joined by Gallatin River Task Force Executive Director Kristin Gardner, who spoke to the Gallatin Canyon Area Sewer Study. Funded by the resort tax, the study looks at the feasibility and costs associated with treating wastewater from residents in the canyon and whether a centralized or hybridized approach will best service that growing area of the Big Sky community.