By Kirk Stapp
Measure U, an extension of the 2&1/2% utilities users taxes (UUT), will cost the average homeowner approximately $80 to $100 a year, and, if approved, the taxes will continue indefinitely.
The Council adopted ordinance states:
Recommendation for Expenditure of Funds. The Tourism and Recreation Commission, or such other commission or committee as is hereafter designated by the Town Council, shall annually conduct at least one public hearing where it takes public testimony as to how tax revenues collected under the Mammoth Lakes Mobility, Recreation, and Arts and Culture Utility Tax Ordinance should be expended. After accepting such public input, such commission or committee shall make written recommendations to the Town Council as to how such tax revenues should be expended. Prior to expending such tax revenues as have not been earlier committed, the Town Council SHALL CONSIDER (emphases added) the recommendations of such commission or committee report.”
Bottom line: the Town Council appoints a commission or committee which can make recommendation to the Town Council which has the final authority over budget appropriations.
Measure U funds can only be used for the following purposes:
“Planning, construction, operation, maintenance, programming and administration of facilities and projects for mobility, recreation, and art & culture. Such tax proceeds shall not supplant existing funds used for the purposed set forth above.”
The combination of an unending tax and the open ended language on how Measure U funds can be used, gives me pause. The question voters might want to ask the Town Council and the Utility User Tax Supporters is: What projects are being contemplated? A roof on the ice rink? The completion of Trails End Park? A running track down at Whitmore Park? An increase in funding for MLTPA? Is there a five-year expenditure plan? A twenty-year expenditure plan? What are the Town Council’s priorities and needs? Obviously, the extension of the UUT wasn’t created in a vacuum.
It is also bothersome that the language in Measure U, “proceeds shall not supplant existing funds” is in conflict with the Town’s Community Benefits and Incentive Zoning (CBIZ) policy. The CBIZ policy states that “impact fees (including affordable housing, development impact fees, and public art fees) are not applied to square footage or density provided as community benefits…” In other words, the Town is trading away the fees which should be collected to fund Mobility, Recreation, Art and Culture. Has the Council reneged on Measure R? When Measure R was passed by the voters, “impact fees” were a funding source for Mobility, “transit and trails.”
Even more bothersome is the fact that the Town Council by trading away Old Mammoth Place’s DIF fees and affordable housing fees has created a de facto community priority list. What they value are plazas/open space, a mid-block connector, retail/restaurant/conference facilities, and underground parking. What is not valued are the Town’s facilities and critical infrastructure which are funded by DIF and affordable housing fees: 1) Law Enforcement, 2) Streets and traffic signals, 3) Transit and trails, 4) Storm Drainage, 5) General Facilities, 6) Parkland and Recreation, 7) Airport, and affordable housing and art.
Some supporters of Measure U have argued that the Old Mammoth Place (OMP) project will be a revenue producer, thus, it is a “good deal” for the Town. After all, the financial consultant for the OMP project argued that with the additional 244 condo/hotel rooms or incremental density, the Town will annually generate $1,872,000 in additional TOT, property taxes and sales taxes. Of course, the financial consultant assumes that every guest, visitor, and customer staying in these new room is a NEW visitor, guest, or customer. Apparently, adding rooms and commercial spaces when there is empty space all of Town will bring new visitors to Town.
But I digress, Okay, one more digression. Remember when Intrawest said in 1997, “A rising tide floats all boats.” I always thought the “rising tide” was additional visitors and guests and “all boats” included: public safety, parklands and recreations, snow removal, storm drains, an airport, affordable housing, things DIF fees and affordable housing fees support. Apparently, the new metaphor is: If the tide isn’t rising, we need to sink a few boats.
In summary, I oppose Measure U because: 1) It doesn’t have a sunset, 2) there are no capital projects identified in the ordinance, 3) the language describing the “purpose” for Measure U is too broad, 4) the Town’s CBIZ policy conflicts with the commitment being made in Measure U, that the funds won’t supplant existing revenue sources (they will), and 5) from my point of view, the Town’s CBIZ policy reneges on Measure 2002-A and Measure R.