Who’s really got the teeth when it comes to the Whitmore Pool … the community or Town Council? That might be the ultimate question when it comes to whether Town staff’s proposed cuts to the facility are allowed to stand, and used instead to help pay for the recent MLLA [airport litigation] settlement.
During the Recreation Commission’s meeting this week, Commissioners got an earful from the public, particularly concenring protecting the waters used by, among others, the Mammoth Sharks Swim Team, and tapping Measure R funds to backfill any cuts.
Jim Lynch, whose father in law was no less than Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Roy Saari, decried the plans to shut down Whitmore’s operation as “a shame, a travesty.” He went on to praise swimming coach Lindsay Barksdale, and lamented a taking from the kids of the community, some of whom weren’t even born when the Hot Creek Litigation debacle began.
The Whitmore Recreation area has a $232,000 annual operation and maintenance budget, of which Mono County funds half, not including about $19,000 in offsetting revenue. Staff said a request is being submitted to the County to cover about $106,000, which could leave the rest open to funding via Measure R dollars.
A complicating factor is that the Town would have to retain personnel it otherwise would have let go by bot funding Whitmore.
Meaning, it would save more money than just the match with the County if it chose to close the facility.
Donnette Huselton argued that before the Town decides to shut down Whitmore, staff should review the leases with Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. She suggested that the “savings” might be false, and the Town might run up against contractual obligations to either keep the facilities operating, or tear down the entire area and restore it to its original condition.
Her only question was whether staff or the community should file an application for Measure R funding. Timing of the settlement, which only recently was announced, leaves precious little time to meet the Oct. 24 filing cutoff date, though the Commission said it has in the past allowed emergency filings and consideration on select applications.
Commissioner Pat Agnitch pointed out that using Measure R to prop up operation of the pool could amount to supplanting, but questioned whether the public’s support for R meant allowing cutting off operations to a current recreation facility. “The public didn’t vote [to enact Measure R] to discontinue what we already have,” she added. “The pool benefits our youth, and they shouldn’t be penalized for the actions of others.”
“It’s not your money, it’s our money,” Huselton admonished the Commission and staff. “If we want to use it, supplanting or not, that’s what it’s there for.” Commissioner Teri Stehlik did, however, point out that the Commission is nonetheless bound to adhere to the spirit of the Measure R ordinance, and that the “language is the language.”
Chair Bill Sauser was more pointed in his reaction, saying there are “other possible cuts that the Town could make” to cover Whitmore funding. “At the risk of being politically incorrect, you could make that up by getting rid of one of the Town’s top three administrators.” Measure R, he went on to suggest, has become an “easy button,” which it shouldn’t be. “Perhaps we need to dig our heels in and tell Council to figure it out.”
Commissioner Sean Turner also called any talk of closing the pool a travesty, and advocated saving Whitmore, saying the General Fund has always paid for it. He further called on Council to make other “hard cuts.” He did, however, think using R dollars would qualify as supplanting, his take being that R was enacted to complete current projects and start new ones. He was supportive of the idea of a “loan,” but a short term one that would be very specifically worded. He also railed against further cuts to Recreation, which he thinks has taken some of the greatest hits, with the exception of the police department.
New Commissioner Betsy Truax pointed to the pool’s location 10 miles outside of Mammoth Lakes, and said she’d prefer to see R money put toward a new facility in town, instead of toward an aging facility. Truax seemed to favor not using R dollars, even as a last resort, positing that it would only solve the problem this year, and wouldn’t address the same problem next year.
Mammoth Unified School District Superintendent Rich Boccia, who has supported the new athletic facility and previously suggested the district as the grounds for its location, said he favored putting a Measure R application in by Oct. 24. “In the short term, there’s a pool, and there’s a need and a desire,” he opined. “At least let’s play that [application] card and keep the conversation going.”
Stehlik also took issue with the cuts and how they’ve led to the community “pitting ourselves against each other.” She said other options need to be looked at and haven’t as yet, and suggesting the “mine is more important than yours” is counterproductive. “We need to look at adjusting hours, programs, fee structures … that’s not where we are right now,” Stehlik mentioned, adding that there isn’t a formal goal articulated by the Town as to restructuring recreation yet.
Agnitch suggested Council revisit the language on supplanting, and possibly eliminate it altogether. Chair Sauser, however, opposed that idea, pointing out that getting rid of the supplanting language only makes it easier for the Town to move the money across into the General Fund.
Easier, it turns out, might be moot term, in light of what Mobility Commission Chair Sandy Hogan related from a conversation she previously had with Town Attorney Andrew Morris. The supplanting language, Hogan explained, could apply only to recreation facility and maintenance FUNDING, meaning it could potentially be used by the Town for other applications.
Section 3.48.160 of the Measure R ordinance reads, “ … only for the planning, construction, operation, maintenance, programming and administration of all trails, parks and recreation facilities managed by the Town of Mammoth Lakes without supplanting existing parks and recreation facility maintenance funds.”
Town Council will discuss Recreation and Public Works with the public next week’s meeting, again on Thursday as opposed to Wednesday, at 6 p.m. Recreation, Parks and Trails restructuring will follow at the meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 6 p.m.