Suite Z was the site of a mixed bag of blessings and budget balancing during Wednesday night’s meeting of the Mammoth Lakes Town Council.
First up, however, was the peaceful transition of power, with recognition for outgoing Mayor Jo Bacon. Plaudits came from Councilmember Rick Wood, who praised her leadership style. “A good mayor makes it easier on the rest of us, and a great mayor makes us look great, too,” Wood enthused. John Eastman went on to add that she was “always there for us when we needed her,” calling her a “go-to” mayor.
Councilmember Matthew Lehman, next in the rotation, was quickly elected Mayor, but John Eastman, also next in the rotation, deferred his nomination for Mayor Pro-Tem another year, with Rick Wood stepping in to take the post.
The balancing act
After a short presentation by Assistant Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez, the revised budget balancing measures were passed unanimously, with no public input during the hearing portion and no Council discussion. Councilmembers only made brief reference to how difficult the cuts were to make and the amount of work that staff and Town management put in. There was some lamentation from Wood, who said he’s done 10 budgets and “never seen anything like this,” about the amount of cuts made during the past three fiscal years: $1.7 million in 2010-2011, $2.7 million last year and another $2.8 this year.
The balancing plan submitted by Marysheva-Martinez seeks to close a 14% or $2.8 million shortfall in the $19 million General Fund budget. Virtually no line item was spared, though some funding was added back into Airport line items such as maintenance and fuel contract reconfiguration. Savings would be realized by elimination of the Airport Director position and a Public Works position, which have already taken place.
The balancing measures held firm to other cuts already proposed. Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access’s subsidy of $170,000 was eliminated, as was a $14,500 contract with High Sierra Energy Foundation. When the balancing plan was first rolled out, the Town deferred that funding to Southern California Edison, but SCE has since written to HSEF Director Rick Phelps saying it would not step in to cover the loss.
Also given the ax was a $65,000 contract with Mono County for the Whitmore Animal Shelter, though that move might come back to haunt the Town once the County evaluates its agreements with Mammoth Lakes vis a vis the Whitmore Ballfield, etc., and its obligations to the state for keeping the shelter open, which might mitigate its closing.
Mammoth Lakes Police will lose School Resource Officer and Traffic Enforcement Officer positions, and eliminate special programs requiring overtime, including the Community Police Academy, Hispanic Advisory Committee, and any honor guard or mounted unit details for celebratory use. Additional officers will be available for a variety of major community events, but the events will have to pick up the tab for police service. The Town will not.
Most of the overtime being cut by the Town will come from within the MLPD.
In addition to $1 million in employee pay concessions, according to Marysheva-Martinez’s overview, also in the plan are changes to union contracts that mean employees will now pay for their share of retirement plans, which had been previously covered by the Town. Civilian employees will pay 8% and sworn employees 9%.
Editor’s note: Not like the 100% most of us in the private sector pay, but it’s a start.
It wasn’t all budget blues on the dais, however; Council was all smiles, having no problems handing out money that had nothing to do with the General Fund.
Council approved the 2012 Measure R spring funding recommendations. The funding also includes a final $46,000 payment to MLTPA for projects approved in December 2010, and approval of a recommendation by the Mammoth Lakes Trail System Coordinating Committee for $25,000 to Friends of the Inyo for its Summer of Stewardship trails maintenance program.
Outgoing FOI Executive Director Stacy Corless told Council its first outing on June 2 (National Trails Day) yielded 48 logs removed, more than one log removed per volunteer, and that additionally the FOI volunteers helped “log out” the entirety of Duck pass, with more work in the offing.
And Council also passed two additional Measure U funding recommendations for the Mammoth Lakes Foundation ($45,000) and the Mammoth Lakes Events Coalition ($25,385), both of which were shorted in the first round of asks in the pilot version of the new funding source, derived from utility taxes, earmarked for Mobility, Recreation, and Arts & Culture.
Up, up and away to the FAA
The controversial Airport Layout Plan Update Narrative was deemed fit to fly to the Federal Aviation Administration. The ALPUN went through the hands of 2 consulting firms, and 1 peer review, as well as evaluation by both the Airport and Planning commissions. But it has also been the target of considerable public criticism for not adequately addressing numerous issues that at least two vocal citizens — Stephen Kalish and Owen Maloy — think could be problematic for the Airport and dealings with air service carriers going forward.
Nonetheless, Council seemed content with its status to this point, and reached consensus that members want to hear comments from the FAA before going any further at this phase of the Airport Plan.
Transportation Commission parked
Finally, Council opted to put the brakes on a proposed merger of the Mobility and Airport commissions. Mobility Chair Sandy Hogan supported the merger into the 5- or 7- person hybrid body, but Airport Chair Pam Murphy asked Council for at least six months to a year of more time for that commission to complete some considerable work looming on the horizon, and shore up its members. “I’m very concerned about any loss of expertise,” Murphy told Council.
New Councilmember Michael Raimondo cited recent management changes at the FAA, the ALPUN comments to come, and other pressing matters at the airport as reasons to keep the two separated, at least for the time being. Wood agreed, adding he’s wary about “diluting the strength of the Airport Commission.” Eastman said simply he doesn’t see the benefit of the merger. Both commissions have a lot of work ahead of them in their respective areas of expertise. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he suggested.
There are three current Airport Commission members who have been waiting until a resolution was reached on the merger to reapply for their seats, and one open Mobility Commission seat left vacant in light of the possible merger will be need to be advertised.
In other Council news … Council awarded a pair of contracts to Spiess Construction, one for construction of an ice melt project on the Lakeview Boulevard connector to Lake Mary Road. Some locals refer to this short, but hazardous piece of road as the “Voodoo Chute.” During winter, its steep grade can get very icy and has led to several auto accidents. A mix of Measure U and grant funds will pay for the project, which will start with propane, but is to be converted to geothermal later. Construction is slated for a fall start.
The second project will finish as section of sidewalk on Sierra Park and Sierra Nevada roads, adding a length all the way down behind the new Mono County Courthouse to Hwy 203. Grant funding from the Safe Routes to Schools, which Eastman said was originally spearheaded by Kathy Cage, will be augmented with a $120,000 contribution from the Administrative Office of the Courts for the section behind the courthouse.
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