Groups get closer to agreement on Big Sky Parks District boundary

Madison Valley residents, Madison County Commissioners and representatives from the Big Sky community met last Wednesday to discuss Big Sky’s proposal for creating a joint parks and recreation district with Madison and Gallatin Counties.

The primary issue on the table was the boundary of a joint district in Madison County. And though the group had a productive discussion, there are still some questions, said Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart.

“The boundaries themselves aren’t defined yet,” Hart said.

The Big Sky Parks and Recreation District would be a joint non-taxing district encompassing area in both Madison and Gallatin County. The Gallatin County Commissioners have already given their approval to forming their side of the district with the idea that it would be a joint district with Madison County, said Katie Morrison, executive director of the Big Sky Community Corporation, which is a non-profit organization that helps promote parks and recreation in Big Sky.

The two counties would enter into an interlocal agreement concerning the parks and recreation district if it passes both county commissions, Morrison said.

For more than a year, a group of Madison Valley residents have been working with county commissioners on putting a parks and recreation district together in order to help fund efforts around the area. Last December, commissioners passed a resolution to put the formation of a Madison Valley Parks and Recreation District before voters. The district would come with a 3-mill levy and encompass the entire Ennis School District, which includes Madison County’s portion of the Big Sky area.

Big Sky residents, including the Big Sky Community Corporation, resisted the formation of that district because a portion of the tax money collected would come from property owners who didn’t have a realistic expectation of using parks and trails in the Madison Valley.

The commissioner’s resolution ultimately had to be rescinded in February when they discovered another Madison County Parks and Recreation District in the Big Sky area that was formed in 1988.

However, there is still a need for a Madison Valley Parks and Recreation District and voters should have a choice about whether or not to fund the district with their tax dollars, said Ennis’ Tom Leeming who has been involved in the discussions about a parks district for more than a year.

Leeming was at Wednesdays meeting and he felt like good progress was made and that the two groups, which have been at odds in the past, are starting reach some consensus.

“I’ve got a clearer idea of what they’re up to,” Leeming said. “We’re trying to get to some specific boundaries and I think that’s still up in the air a little bit.”

While a non-taxing district might work in Big Sky, Leeming thinks in the Madison Valley it might be necessary to have some tax money coming in to be able and be competitive for grant money to help with parks and recreation projects.

“We’d still like to see this go to a vote with whatever boundaries we can work with,” he said.

The group is planning to meet again before the July 12 weekly Madison County Commissioner meeting where the Big Sky district will again be on the agenda. Even if the boundary of the district isn’t agreed upon by then, the groups are communicating better, Morrison said.

“I think we’re moving forward and I think we’re all getting a lot more on the same page,” she said.

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