Formation Committee in the process of making final edits to MLR.
The Mammoth Lakes Recreation (MLR) Formation Committee convened for its penultimate meeting on Monday, May 12, to finalize its proposal for Council’s approval on May 21. Mayor Pro Tem Jo Bacon began the meeting with a clarified structure for MLR, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that will take on some of the tasks traditionally performed by the Town’s Municipal Recreation Department.
In a nutshell, MLR will be stepping in to assume responsibilities that the MLR Steering Committee felt the current Municipal Recreation wasn’t able to perform adequately, in part because of the necessary but inhibiting checks and balances of government.
One of the tasks MLR will assume is the allocation of voter-approved Measures R and U funds.
MLR will have a roughly $1.8 million annual budget between Measures R and U, and will be funded from Measure R revenues, with a projected overhead of 15-20 percent.
Bacon explained that MLR had run into a roadblock over the allocation of Measure R funds by MLR to itself. According to Town Attorney Andy Morris, MLR could not recommend its own funding. In order to solve this problem, she proposed a change to the current Measure R Expenditure Plan that would allow Town Council to determine the amount to go to MLR. MLR could then make recommendations on the remaining Measure R funds.
This solution meets the legal requirements of Measures R and U, said Morris.
Furthermore, MLR’s recommendations would still be open to public input, Bacon said, and would ultimately be subject to Town Council approval.
“I was having some anxiety about that,” Mayor Rick Wood admitted. “We want the highest levels of accountability, while still allowing MLR to effectively carry out Town priorities … [This scenario] preserves the objectives I had in the beginning.”
Although the Formation Committee agreed this was a positive step forward, the very idea of an NGO receiving funding from a voter-approved tax measure has met with opposition during the MLR formation process.
“I’m not thrilled that funding will come strictly out of Measure R,” said Formation Committee member Betsy Truax. “I can live with it, as long as we remember our stated goal of making this organization revenue-neutral in three to five years.”
“If in five years [MLR] is not revenue-neutral, we’ll have spent several million dollars on two bodies; two administrative functions rather than one,” pointed out audience member Sandy Hogan. “Then we’ve just thrown a lot of money down the rat hole.”
Formation Committee members agreed to add the revenue-neutral goal to the final Council recommendation.
Another concern expressed by the public was over MLR’s potential to supplant the existing Municipal Recreation Department.
“Municipal will take second place, at least that’s what I’ve been hearing,” said Hogan.
While the Steering Committee meetings prior to Town Council’s approval of the MLR formation on Feb. 19 stressed that MLR would serve to support and enhance current Municipal Recreation functions, Jo Bacon maintained that MLR should act as a lead entity.
“That’s part of the problem identified in this [formation] process, where the Town has been able to create planning documents but not able to implement anything and provide the amenities outlined in Rec Strats II and other documents,” she said. “I still see that MLR is a lead association.”
Yet another concern was over the proposed salary for the MLR Executive Director. According to a spreadsheet presented at the Formation Committee meeting, benefits for a Private Business employee were approximately 16 percent; for Mammoth Lakes Tourism, another NGO, 18 percent; and between 28 and 45 percent for a Town employee.
Although the cost of benefits will be lower for an NGO than a Town-hired Executive Director, Rick Wood pointed out that the projected salary of between $90,000-110,000 is unrealistic. “I can tell you the Town will never find somebody for [only] $100,000 for this position,” he said.
Betsy Truax noted that the position could be offered at a lower salary with incentives. But even so, said audience member Don Zeleny, “I’m afraid you’ve set up a [salary] expectation that’s pretty low, and the public is going to buy into that … I think we want the [MLT Executive Director] John Urdi equivalent, and that sort of expertise.”
Final salary will be subject to negotiations, Formation Committee members pointed out, as will be the specific role of MLR.
The Formation Committee supported including specific tasks and deliverables in the MLR contract framework, such as the role MLR will play in trails, or in the construction of a performing arts facility. But the Committee acknowledged that some specifics may change during negotiations between an MLR Board and the Town.
One positive clarification came from Jo Bacon regarding the U.S. Forest Service’s response to the MLR. USFS District Recreation Officer Jon Kazmierski was present when Town Council approved the formation of the MLR in February, and offered what sounded like a warning at that time.
“We’re generally concerned about this process and how MLR is evolving as it relates to the Town/Forest Service partnership,” he said. “Some of the things proposed [by MLR] may not be allowed. Permits and agreements are not transferable.”
Bacon said that Inyo National Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta and Mammoth District Ranger John Regelbrugge told her that the Feb. 19 comments were not intended to be negative.
“They did reaffirm the partnership and acknowledged the ways we could work together and communicate better than we have,” she said. She added that Armenta and Regelbrugge were “very amenable” to the idea of the MLR Board Chair or Vice Chair updating the Forest Service on particular meetings.
As for the existing Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between the Town and the USFS, Bacon said she didn’t think they would be impacted by the change to MLR. “We still have to review the MOUs during the transition … But because they relate to established projects, I think it’ll work out,” she said.
Concluding the meeting, the Formation Committee noted some of the topics it plans to include in the overall recommendation presented to Council on May 21. The Committee discussed the continued suspension of Measures R and U during the transition period; the shift of Mammoth Lakes Trails System Coordinating Committee (MLTSCC) into the authority of MLR, the dissolution of the Measure U Committee, and changes to Recreation Commission responsibilities.
“You’ve done a remarkable job from last summer all the way through,” audience member John Wentworth told the Committee. “We’re going over the falls, and I think that’s a good thing.”