Local, state and federal stakeholders look to facility expansion
By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR
BIG SKY – For the first time since the early 2000s, the Big Sky Post Office doesn’t have to ask for local public tax dollars to support operations.
The U.S. Postal Service notified Big Sky’s contract post office in March of the fulfillment of its $547,000 funding request, which became effective March 1, 2022. This funding increase is the first step in a larger effort to engage USPS in seeking long-term solutions for the over-capacity post office.
In the past, the post office has relied on Big Sky Resort Area District funds to operate the facility. According to Al Malinowski, president of Gallatin Partners, Inc., which operates the post office, the fiscal year 2023 ask for resort tax dollars would have been for more than $200,000. In addition, because of this funding, the post office was able to return about $46,000 of its fiscal year 2022 funds to BSRAD for reallocation.
The increase in funding from USPS frees up local public dollars for other uses and represents the first step in a much longer process to address larger issues plaguing the post office like lack of space and outdated equipment.
“That’s a huge win for the community that we should all pause and celebrate,” said BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale. “And after the celebration [we can] turn towards continuing to ensure that the future of the post office, amidst the growth that the community is experiencing, addresses the needs of Big Sky residents.”
The next step in the process, according to Malinowski, would be a site visit from a USPS representative so the federal agency can see the challenges firsthand to make a plan and pursue effective solutions.
“You can’t know what’s going on out in the Big Sky community from a desk elsewhere,” Malinowski said. “You really need to come here and drive around for a few minutes. And then it doesn’t take long to recognize what’s happening here.”
What’s happening is Big Sky’s tremendous growth that is outpacing the post office’s ability to serve the community. The current post office has 1,661 post office boxes, and census data from 2020 reports that the population of the Census Designated Place of Big Sky is more than 3,500 people.
Already, representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, Montana Sen. Pat Flowers, Montana House District 64 representative Dr. Jane Gillette as well as Gallatin and Madison County commissioners have visited the post office to see the issues it faces.
“I think if we’re able to get [USPS] out there, and once again, to get them talking to the contractor and the different community leaders that’ll be a big step forward as far as getting a bigger facility,” Tester told EBS in a June 8 interview.
The three-term senator emphasized the importance of the postal service being in rural America pointing out that many residents rely on it for access to vital medications among other necessities.
“Big Sky is one example of many rural towns or rural communities in some cases around the state that needed some help,” Tester said. “We spend quite a bit of time on this issue.”
Those involved in advocating for the Big Sky Post Office expressed hope that a site visit would take place soon. In the meantime, the post office continues to do its best to serve the community with limited resources in a cramped space, Malinowski said.
“We really are packed to the seams because of the visitation,” he said. “We believe we’ve outgrown our facility. So we want federal help to … tell us what the next best step would be.”
Malinowski said there is a waiting list to get a coveted P.O. Box and many people use general delivery to receive their mail which is inefficient and inconvenient. He added that the post office has no storage space and often piles packages waist high impeding walkways during high-volume mail times.
Despite these challenges, post office employees are working to get Big Sky residents their mail.
“I want everyone to know that our community is first,” said post office Manager Christine Alexander. “So, despite our challenges, it is about the community and we want everyone to feel like we care about them because we truly do.”
Malinowski praised the post office staff for doing an outstanding job with limited resources adding that he hopes to see some changes come soon that will benefit the entire community.