“Reliable funding for local projects without raising taxes.” That’s the tagline that the Yes on Measure U committee brought to this week’s meeting of the Future of Mammoth Lakes.
According to the group’s Facebook page, the Future of Mammoth Lakes is a “non-partisan group of concerned citizens looking out for the future of Mammoth Lakes.” The group has been holding meetings in the past few months to discuss upcoming election items, and this week they convened at Base Camp Cafe to talk about Measure U.
The upcoming ballot measure is a continuation of the User Utility Tax (UUT) currently scheduled to sunset in June 2011. Therefore, Measure U is not a new tax; the use of the money collected from it would just be changed if voters approve it on June 8.
Until now the tax has been used to pay off debt for several parks that were built in Mammoth Lakes, including Shady Rest Park. These debts will be paid off once the tax sunsets next year, so if it were continued the approximately $800,000 it brings in annually could be used for “other projects.” If it receives the necessary two-thirds vote in the election, Town Council has allocated the tax to mobility, recreation, and arts and culture. The tax would remain at its current 2.5 percent level, but this time it would have no sunset clause.
“When will the needs for what the money is supporting ever go away,” asked John Wentworth, Executive Director of the Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation. Lack of a sunset, he pointed out, would also allow the money to be bonded.
Wentworth, whose MLTPA organization was critical in getting Measure R passed two years ago, stepped up as the spokesperson for the Yes on Measure U Committee at the meeting on Tuesday night. Wentworth explained that if approved, this continuation of the UUT would use the same process that Measure R uses to award money, and the same restrictions would apply to Measure U that apply to R.
This means that anyone interested in Measure U money for a project would have to complete an application that would go to the Tourism and Recreation Commission. The T&R Commission would then make recommendations that would go to Council for final approval. Measure U dollars would not be allowed to be used to supplant projects, and only money that was actually in the bank would be committed.
Town Council candidate Kirk Stapp, who wrote the ballot argument against Measure U, was the only person in the room who spoke up in depth against it. He thinks that the language in the ordinance is too loose, and that Measure R dollars were not as secure as Wentworth believed. Having Measure U follow the Measure R process, he opined, may not be the best idea. Stapp further thinks that the Town is trying to use some Measure R dollars to backfill Developer Impact Fee (DIF) debt.
Wentworth countered that Stapp was wrong about this idea and vouched for the Measure R process, but added that as with anything, “the price of liberty is constant vigilance.” He pointed out that concerns about DIF were exactly why passage of Measure U was necessary because U would serve as a reliable source of funding that would not be dependent on development.