Sarah Blechta at the resort tax board candidates forum in April.

Blechta, Johnson win

HOA expert and active volunteer take seats on resort tax board

Results came in around 8:20 p.m.. Steve Johnson was headed back to Big Sky after a fly tying session at the Warriors and Quiet Waters Ranch north of Bozeman. Sarah Blechta was at the Mountain Haven Salon. Both were pleased to receive the news they won seats on the Big Sky Resort Area District board—making them two of five board members in charge of allocating around $7.5 million in funds.

     After the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, the Gallatin County Election Office started to release preliminary results showing Blechta and Johnson as the two winners from a field of four.

     Craig Smit and Buz Davis (Davis appears to have lost to Johnson by just 15 votes)  were the runners up. 

      The resort tax board is charged with making judgements about what does and does not warrant investment of public dollars collected from the local 3 percent resort sales tax. 

      Given Johnson’s narrow margin of victory, he joked, “First we’ll see if I really got elected.” If his edge holds while Gallatin County scrutinizes the vote count over the next week, then Johnson said he’s looking forward to taking on “an awesome responsibility.”

      “Certainly here lately, the resort tax board in Big Sky controls more money than most communities in the state of Montana. That to me takes some serious work. That’s what I aim to do,” said Johnson, adding he’ll support, “Key investments in infrastructure. Investments that make sense to the actual resident community”—as opposed to those of large local employers.  

     “I don’t work for any of those people but I live here,” said Johnson, a retired business consultant at Accenture. “There are serious challenges ahead of us. Serious work in my book.”

     Blechta was prepping for a trip to Washington D.C. on election night, where she will attend a national conference for managers of home owners associations. This is her second time running for office in Big Sky, having lost an earlier bid for school board. 

     Blechta and Johnson have about a month to prep for the allocation period, when in June the resort tax board awards funds to applicants. They’ll both have to read “a pile of applications” said Johnson, who along with Blechta, has experience reading through numbers and fine print.

     “I think what really sets me up for success is my background with financials,” Blechta told those gathered for a candidate forum in April. “I work with 15 different homeowners associations. I oversee several million dollars in budgets, report on this monthly to various boards. And it gives me that understanding of where we’re at, what we’re spending money on, why we’re spending money on it and really kind of looking at it holistically.”

     After hearing about not only winning but placing first with 371 votes, Blechta said, “Super excited. Kind of shocked. I think mostly, number one, I wasn’t expecting to know for a couple of hours. This is something I was really hoping to get. It’s going to be unbelievably busy.” 

     Blechta said she’s been preparing to take on the responsibility of a board member by speaking with current and retiring members, along with the resort district staff, Whitney Brunner and Kristin Drain, who Blechta described as, “so entrenched in it and will be unbelievable resources.”

     Buz Davis was traveling through Utah, coming back to Big Sky from Arizona, when reached with the election results. Looking back on the race—in which Davis spent time meeting with a variety of groups and community members—he said, “It was just a fantastic experience. I’ve had pretty good connections in the community. It just took it to another level. What a great town. I mean really, there are so many dedicated people.”

     Including Johnson, who during the April candidate’s forum, said, “My volunteer work has taught me a lot about the other end of the resort tax allocation process. I’ve seen that stuff first-hand. And I think with my work experience I think I have some ideas about how it might work better. I’d like to blend the experience that I have in Big Sky and before getting here and try to make this a better functioning organization.”

     The nitty gritty begins June 4 at 1 p.m., when resort tax funding applicants will come before the board for a Q&A about their applications. The board will then make funding decisions on June 18 starting at 6 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

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