Mammoth’s Town Council calls it “restructuring.” Others call it austerity. In any case, Town Council voted Wednesday evening to adopt a resolution approving a budget plan which dedicates money for payments on the settlement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition and Ballas Entities.
Included in the five-year plan, the first of that length ever adopted by the Town, are cost savings measures and budget assumptions, some based on increasing revenues to allow for the $2 million annually for 23 years that must be paid to MLLA.
General Fund revenues are being predicated on a Transient Occupancy Tax growth rate of 14% this year, and a 2% to 4% rate for the next four fiscal years. Property tax revenues are expected to be off 4.5% this year, based on input from Mono County’s Finance Department, but as of fiscal year 2014-2015 are expected to grow at about 1% to 2% per annum.
Those estimates would lead to a series of projected budgets with revenues topping $18 million or more, which Mayor Matthew Lehman found at least curious. “Only three times in the past 10 years have we gone over $18 million,” he mentioned. “If we don’t meet projections, we’ll be back here tweaking again.” Councilmember Rick Wood said he doesn’t see “conservative budgeting” in the figures. “It’s not conservative, but we’re comfortable with [the projections],”Assistant Town Manager Marianna Marysheva Martinez replied.
One breaking story involved the Whitmore Recreation area and whether to adopt a Recreation Commission-sponsored resolution that would change the Measure R expenditure plan. The change would allow for using $184,000 for a maximum of two years to backfill cuts made to Whitmore and elimination of a full-time Parks Maintenance position.
The Commission, seeking a stopgap to keep Whitmore open, held four meetings in the past nine days, two of which were public, to draft the resolution. The Commission gave tacit approval for it just two hours before Council’s meeting. It was, however, prefaced with a request that Council try to find the money from within the General Fund. And, amazingly enough, it did.
Some on Council, particularly Wood, were against breaking public trust and using Measure R funds outside the ordinance’s intent. Councilmember John Eastman, also against using Measure R, pitched the idea that the money would be appropriated from unspent dollars in the Public Works Road Maintenance fund. Public Works Director Ray Jarvis said there probably wasn’t enough in the fund to cover $184,000.
Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht proposed a compromise: fund the remaining $89,830 for this year out of the Road Fund, and deal with next year’s funding at a later date, leaving the resolution as a Plan B for next year’s funding, if absolutely necessary. Jarvis thinks that amount of money is in the account, and said at worst the shifted funds might mean a later start to spring preparation for next summer’s road work. Council plans to look at next year’s funding during its midyear budget review in February.
More good news: stronger than anticipated collection of TOT, especially from new TOT registrations and more properties now paying in their share of nightly rental fees. That served to offset lower than expected property tax revenue, yielding a net gain to the General Fund of $219,000 to date this year. According to Martinez, there is an additional $20,000 in TOT income pending.
Transit ended up receiving a $25,000 windfall. The money had been slated to develop volunteer programs, but those programs don’t look like they’ll happen this year. Council thought the money would be better spent shoring up a $40,000 shortfall in late night bus and trolley service between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Recreation Manager Stuart Brown added there is sufficient trolley money from Measure U to cover this year’s Night of Lights event. Councilmember Michael Raimondo suggested asking Mammoth Mountain Ski Area to cover an additional $15,000, if necessary.
None of this benefited the Mammoth Lakes Police Department. Even in the face of more criticism of reductions by locals including Rich McAteer and Fire Chief Brent Harper, the Town held firm on its department cut, forcing MLPD Chief Dan Watson to trim seven sworn positions. The savings: $1.1 million, but at a cost of reduced levels of services. Raimondo pointed out, however, that even at a reduced amount of $3.6 million, the MLPD still accounts for 23% of the Town’s budget.
The only major change to the original budget plan floated by MMM involves repayment by Mammoth Lakes Housing of two housing loans (totaling about $700,000, due in December 2015 and 2017). The Town plans to front the payments to the state, and would be reimbursed once the units are sold. MLH Director Pam Hennarty said she wasn’t consulted on this part of the plan.
Also being addressed is the Reserve for Economic Uncertainty (REU). Withdrawals will be necessary to pay back housing loans until MLH can sell its properties, and fund $150,000 annually to replace critical systems and add new technology. Even with the $1 million left over in the FY 2012-2013 budget, the plan has backed off the initial idea of funding the REU at 11.6% annually, dropping that expectation to around 8%.
In Community Development, at least three currently vacant positions will remain unfilled.
Adopting the plan was but Phase 1 of a four-phase framework. Still to come are assessing alternative service delivery models, including volunteer programs and outsourcing. And going forward, the Town might want to step lightly when it comes to outsourcing. The City of Costa Mesa found that out the hard way when it lost an appeal just last month in a case against an employee union. State law apparently places stiff restrictions on the amount and type of privatizing allowed by municipal government, prohibiting firing or layoffs of municipal employees in order to contract out those same services.
According to a report on the case in the Orange County Register, the court’s decision essentially prohibits the majority of cities from privatizing, except for certain “specialized services,” such as legal or financial functions. The Town has apparently already come up against that problem, pulling back “for legal reasons” a proposed elimination of the Town’s IT (Information Techonology) Specialist position and outsourcing the job to a private vendor.