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With slim funds, resort tax board discusses ‘hard decisions’





BIG SKY – In an open forum on April 8, the Big Sky Resort Area District board held a virtual meeting to discuss and move forward on a series of action items, many relating to COVID-19 community impacts.

The group heard an update from board chair Kevin Germain, who reported having sent $500,000 of the initial $1 million committed by BSRAD to the Big Sky Relief Fund to the Bozeman Health Big Sky Community Medical Center to cover the costs of three ventilators as well as the construction and supplies for four additional in-patient rooms, which are estimated to be completed May 5.

An additional $500,000 will be distributed for social services addressing needs born of COVID-19-related challenges. Four applicants have sought funds from this pot, including the Big Sky Community Food Bank, the Big Sky School District, the Discover Academy, and Morningstar Learning Center.

In an effort to save relief fund dollars for potentially imperative asks coming down the pike, the board approved an action giving a subcommittee authority to reallocate unused funds from Fiscal Year 2020 to other areas of need. “We don’t know what’s going to come,” said board Secretary Buz Davis, a member of the reallocation subcommittee. “We might get a tidal wave of requests.”

Germain added that among the many unknowns associated with the virus, the board can’t yet grasp the extent of medical system needs that may arise. Board members emphasized the importance of handling fund requests with careful deliberation and consideration of an uncertain future.

From the Big Sky Relief discussion, the board moved into a financial forecast, delivered by BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale. According to a projection shared by Bierschwale, March resort tax collections are predicted to come in at 40 percent of March collections from FY19, while April and May collections are predicted to be negligible. June collections are predicted to total 25 percent of June collections from FY19.

The presumed reduction in collections as well as the $1 million committed to the relief fund and the absence of a sinking fund comparable to that of FY19, which totaled $876,000, combines for a projected shortfall of $2.8 million from the total funds available at the time of appropriations in June 2019.  

“There are going to be some really hard decisions,” Davis said, looking ahead to upcoming appropriations.

In the interest of providing both the board and community organizations a framework for how to adjust to these changes, a subcommittee was developed with Buz Davis and Sarah Blechta to explore how to quickly assemble the right stakeholders to engage in scenario planning. The board discussed a shift to biannual or even quarterly appropriations, a concept that will be further reviewed in scenario planning.

The board then approved an operating budget for FY21, which had been significantly trimmed.

“That’s the result of us trying to do our part to make sure that we are being as efficient and effective as possible with the use of the tax dollars in our operation,” Bierschwale said in an interview following the meeting. “Like everyone, we’re just responding to the COVID-19 situation and making sure that anything that can be delayed for a future year is being delayed. We’re asking a lot of our applicants so we want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward as well.”

Other business included the board’s approval of the reallocation of funds initially given to Big Sky Search and Rescue for the purpose of a Wilderness First Responder course that was canceled to be used for equipment costs.

The board also approved the reallocation of funds given to the Big Sky Community Housing Trust. The funds were appropriated for use in future projects, but due to an overage of construction costs on the Meadowview workforce housing project, the trust requested a portion of the funds be used to ensure the success of the in-progress housing development.

The upcoming 1 percent vote, which will determine if an additional 1 percent of resort tax may be collected to fund two Big Sky County Water and Sewer District infrastructure projects, was not discussed in depth. Ballots will be mailed April 17 and Election Day is scheduled for May 5.

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