Resort Tax board discusses Covid at monthly meeting

Winter Covid testing, BSMC emergency funding request, & court bond for Gallatin

The board members and employees of the Resort Tax (BSRAD) sat down for their monthly meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 13, to discuss updates. Topics at the meeting included Big Sky Medical Center’s (BSMC) emergency funding request, winter Covid testing for the community, and a variety of small subjects.

One of the first items on the agenda was a virtual presentation by Gallatin County commissioner Scott McFarlane on the county courts facility bond. Starting on Oct. 13, citizens of Gallatin County started receiving ballots. All residents of the county will vote on a measure proposing a substantial rebuild of one of the courthouses in Bozeman. This will be the third attempt to find public support to do so.

“The problem isn’t going away,” explained McFarlane. As it stands, the current building is too small, ageing and thereby structurally at risk to seismic events. It’s also cheaper to rebuild rather than upgrade the current Law and Justice building. The courts are struggling to keep up with a two-year backlog of cases due to COVID-19 and a larger facility would help speed up the process.

Next on Resort Tax’s docket was a request from Big Sky Community Housing Trust (BSCHT) to extend funding, the upcoming community forum on Oct. 26, and a brief Elevate Big Sky and Post Office designation update.

The majority of the BSRAD meeting hosted spirited discussion on two measures related to funding for COVID-19. With increasing cases in the county, the board discussed reimplementing a winter testing program before the ski season for 2021-2022. The plan is to purchase anywhere from 9,000 to 18,000 BinaxNow Antigen Self Tests for $150,000 dollars. These rapid tests take fifteen minutes, cost between $8 to $16 dollars, and can be self-administered at home. They would be available for pick up at the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce.

Conversation bounced back and forth between board members. Ciara Wolfe questioned if this $150,000 would be well spent. She also wondered how long it would be the county's responsibility to shoulder COVID-19 costs. Wolfe suggested perhaps a cash incentive to get the vaccine would be better off. Steve Johnson and Kevin Germain pushed for a conservative approach and supported asymptomatic testing to keep the community open and working. They believed the 1.5% total investment from the $10 million dollar BSRAD funds is well worth the risk. The proposal ultimately passed unanimously despite some debate.

Johnson also raised questions about how major employers in Big Sky—like Cross Harbor and Big Sky Resort—would handle the state and feds conflicting vaccine requirements. The Montana state legislature passed House Bill 702 on May 7, 2021, which makes it illegal to discriminate based on vaccination status or an immunity passport in the state of Montana. Johnson suggested large Big Sky businesses do the “responsible” thing and follow federal guidelines.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), all employers in the United States with 100 or more employees must ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on a weekly basis. This law will go into effect for federal employees on Nov. 22, 2021. OSHA has still not released a deadline for the private sector.

The second major topic at the BSRAD meeting was about BSMC’s Covid Surge and Ongoing Readiness Plan emergency request for $250,000 of funding. The money would help the medical facility prepare for the influx of patients they plan to see with COVID-19 this winter. BSMC’s hope also is to purchase a PCR Panther machine to speed up testing capacity and build out a new supply room. At the moment, the operating room is being used as a supply space while the supply closet is home to the four additional beds added last year. Buying the Panther machine would allow BSMC to churn out more PCR tests results in under 24 hours. This project is also partially funded by the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation (YCCF) for $300,000 dollars.

Later this month, the BSRAD will be hosting their inaugural CommUNITY Forum on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the Wilson Hotel. The event will start at 4:30 p.m. and host a variety of conversations from stakeholders and businesses in the Big Sky area. The public is invited to attend in person or virtually

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