In the 1980’s, the influx of tourists to the Big Sky area was straining local infrastructure and emergency services. The Big Sky sewer system reached capacity resulting in a moratorium on new construction until necessary repairs and upgrades were made. Further, as Big Sky’s visitation continued to increase, community leaders anticipated the need for community parks, trails, tourism development, local transportation, and other services that would make Big Sky a competitive destination resort town. For these many services, Big Sky needed more funds than the resident property tax base could provide.
Therefore, the community began the legislative effort to institutionalize a local resort tax that would allow visitors to help with the costs to maintain local services. The Big Sky Owners Association and many concerned citizens spearheaded the effort, which became complicated for Big Sky as an unincorporated area. It took a unified, creative, and resilient group from Big Sky to convince the Montana State Legislature to create the resort tax option for Big Sky; and after three attempts, with the help of a hired lobbyist, the Big Sky Resort Area was successfully created.
In April of 1992, the general electorate of Big Sky voted in favor of the imposition of the 3% resort tax on the retail value of all luxury goods and services sold within the boundaries of the Big Sky Resort Area. The resort tax became effective on June 1, 1992 for a duration of 20 years and the first appropriation of funding to the community occurred in 1993.
Originally, the Big Sky Resort Area resort tax funding was administered and appropriated by the Madison and Gallatin County Commissioners and a local 9-member Board of Advisors appointed by the Commissioners made recommendations for the allocation of funds.
In 1996, the County Commissioners entered into an interlocal agreement with the Big Sky County Water & Sewer District No. 363. The agreement, to expire in 2012, mandates the annual appropriation of an amount which is the lesser of $500,000 or 50% of the total amount of the resort tax revenues collected in any fiscal year for the purpose of funding improvements to the sewer system.
In 1998, the general electorate of Big Sky voted to create the Big Sky Resort Area District which brought the administration and appropriations away from the Counties and under the management of a locally elected 5-member Board of Directors.
In November 2006, the general electorate expanded the life of the District another 30 years to 2032. As of 2018, the Resort Tax has generated more than $50,000,000.00 for the community of Big Sky.