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Trails district proposing new plan to fund ongoing maintenance of parks, trails

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BSCO has maintained parks, trails and recreation areas in Big Sky for 25 years. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

By Jennifer Clancey DIGITAL PRODUCER

The Big Sky Trails, Recreation and Parks District board has proposed a plan to reach more sustainable funding with property tax assessments and an equal matching agreement with the Big Sky Resort Area District.

Of the proposed funding, 50% would come from equal assessments of 6,341 parcels in the district; the proposed annual assessment is $88.62 per lot, which would appear as a fixed, yearly amount on county tax bills. Then the other 50% would be matched by allocations from BSRAD.

If adopted, the plan would create a more sustainable funding source for local trails and recreation area maintenance—an effort that usually requires more than $1 million each year.

“These assets are critical to our own wellbeing and our behavioral health to be able to access all of these amenities so that we can have a healthy, thriving and engaged community,” said Whitney Montgomery, BSCO’s chief executive officer and trails district board member. “It really is creating a four-leg partnership—Resort Tax, BSTRP, BSCO and property owners—to make sure that we put forward the most sustainable and equitable funding for parks and trails maintenance.” 

Because of Big Sky’s unincorporated status and the unique way the community straddles both Gallatin and Madison counties, funding for outdoor areas has required discussion with both county commissions and local groups.

Maintenance money only

Since the trails district was first formed in 2012, BSCO has had to ask the Resort Tax board for money to maintain and upkeep the community’s parks and trails. BSCO has 25 years of experience in maintaining outdoor spaces and trails around Big Sky.

But now that the trails district is a formal governmental body—due to a dual-county agreement in April 2022—it can request funding from BSRAD on a three-year cycle.

The BSCO and the trails district are working on an agreement that would allow maintenance money to flow through the trails district to BSCO for a period of three years.

“We’re not asking property owners to fund any new projects,” Montgomery said, reiterating that BSCO will only use the grant to maintain existing parks, trails and recreation areas.

As a district of both Gallatin and Madison counties, the trails district can also request the use of an annual property tax assessment to bolster BSRAD’s funding.

“While there are many methods to calculate the assessment, our Board is pursuing the simple method of an equal assessment for each lot or parcel in the district,” Al Malinowski, trails district board member,  wrote in an email.

This means that parcel owners in the district would see a flat rate of $88.52 a year for each parcel they own on their county tax bill.

What this could mean for Big Sky’s outdoor recreation infrastructure

“These are recreational facilities that are broadly used by the community,” said Steve Johnson, a member of both the trails district and BSRAD boards. “The maintenance cost has grown to a point that we need to find more sustainable funding.”

True enough, one only needs to look towards Big Sky’s softball fields and hiking trails to see what these public spaces mean to residents and families. Johnson explained that he and the decision-makers in this plan are interested in hearing community feedback and listening to residents.

“We are happy to engage with the community and engage in dialogue,” Johnson said. The trails district also shared a community input survey that they hope will take the pulse of what Big Sky thinks about the change.

On Friday July 7, BSCO will announce more plans at the 25th Annual BSCO Parks & Trails Gala.

“BSCO will be announcing soon some significant projects that will greatly enhance and expand outdoor recreation,” Montgomery said.

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