Read my lips, the public trough has reopened
At its regular meeting Wednesday night, Mammoth Lakes Town Council voted to end staff furlough days for FY 2010-2011, effectively approving approximately $1 million in new spending on staff salaries.
Council voted 4-0 to end the furloughs. Mayor Neil McCarroll was absent.
In a letter to The Sheet just last week, Mayor Pro-Tem John Eastman wrote, “I … support a continuation of the two furlough days per month for Town employees.” Fortunately, he didn’t dare anyone to read his lips.
Perhaps Council felt emboldened to fill the employee trough because this year’s budget revenue is running $1 million ahead of projections. But consider: Council adopted a budget for 2009-2010 of $16.3 million which represented a 7.6 percent drop from the last budget year’s actual revenue of a shade under $17 million.
So Town revenues, in fact, are running just slightly ahead of last year, meaning, the Town is in the black not because things have significantly improved so much as by reducing expenditures.
Credit the Town for the conservatism of its forecast, but now that it’s prepared to see a significant surplus, it’s first move was to blow the whole wad at the employee casino.
Eastman claimed in his letter last week that any budget surplus should be put into the Town’s REU (Reserve for Economic Uncertainty).
Wednesday’s action shows that he, Lame Duck Sugimura and Not Up For Reelection Harvey and Bacon chose to go on a hiring binge instead. Because that’s what occurred Wednesday night, plain and simple.
Maybe candidate Kirk Stapp’s paranoia is warranted. Should that ballot measure be amended to read: Measure U (Give it to Staff)?
Town Manager Rob Clark has consistently reminded Council over the past two years of how many FTEEs (Full-time employee equivalents) have been trimmed from the Town’s payroll. By furloughing employees for two days per month, that amounted to approximately 10 percent less workdays, 10 percent less pay, and as Clark estimated, a 10 percent reduction in the Town’s workforce, or about 10 employees.
Yet when asked by The Sheet point blank on Wednesday what an end to furloughs would mean to the Town’s staffing levels, Clark suddenly couldn’t remember. Reverse the numbers, Mr. Clark. You just added 10 employees.
In a phone conversation Thursday morning, Eastman told The Sheet that he had, in fact, voted to extend the furloughs. He then called Human Resource Manager Michael Grossblatt, received clarification as to what he had actually voted for (to end furloughs), and informed Staff and The Sheet that he would re-agendize the item for the next Council meeting.
“We can’t afford a million bucks,” he said.
He was then informed by Town Attorney Peter Tracy that an item cannot be re-agendized if there has been no dissent. As the vote was 4-0, well, game over.
Eastman did say Thursday that he would propose $1 million in staffing cuts at the next meeting to compensate for his error.
For his part, Council member Skip Harvey said that the agenda item had been perfectly clear to him and he knew exactly what he had voted for.
Harvey said that as part of the agreement, Staff agreed to forego a 4.5 percent COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment) that was included in their labor contracts.
They will also forego something called a deferred compensation match.
An additional year was also added to the union contracts. That final year will also include no COLA.
Harvey defended Council’s decision by saying that the move will increase service to the community.
Harvey said that by getting the unions to agree to forego their COLAS, the Town will save $500,000 next year.
As Harvey sees it, the Town was on the hook for a 4.5 percent raise anyway (thanks to the generous contract it gave its employees in 2007), and gave an extra 5 percent in exchange for 10 percent more work.
As Eastman sees it, we just gave back a year’s worth of fiscal austerity in a ten-minute agenda item.
And Eastman has no one to blame but himself for ignoring the agitated reporter in the front row who could not believe what the hell was happening.
This is what was TheSheetTweeted at the meeting as the Town was betting it all on black 24.
“Council in latest union negotiations ended staff furloughs. John Eastman is George Bush passing a 1990 tax hike.”
“Staff graciously decided to forego its 4.5 percent COLA. Hmm. Should there be a COLA under discussion if there is zero inflation?”
For point of reference, Geisel notes that COLAs for County employees average around 1 to 2 percent.
And from Geisel’s desk …
The Sheet has recently heard some street chatter regarding possible postage errors associated with mail-in absentee ballots for the upcoming Mono County election, which is already technically in progress for those who requested the forms. County Elections Supervisor Lynda Roberts said the misconceptions stem from a handful of ballots that may be 0.1 ounce heavier than the normal weight, which should be one ounce. The extra weight, she said, bumps the postage up to the next rate class, which many voters may not be aware of when they “just pop on first-class postage.” Roberts suggested a simple solution is for voters to weigh their ballots at the Post Office prior to sending, or hand-deliver them to the Mammoth Lakes ballot box located in the County offices above Giovanni’s. Roberts said the County is perplexed as to how some of the ballots ended up slightly overweight, but in any case is assuming responsibility for any postage due. “They went out as scheduled on May 10, and are already coming back each day,” Roberts said. Any voters with questions as to their ballot’s status, or missing an expected ballot, should feel free to call Roberts’ office at 760.932.5530.
And Gaye Mueller briefed the Mono County Tourism Commission late last month on the status of the 23rd Annual Mammoth Lakes Kids Fishing Festival. With both of the previous flagship sponsors now defunct, Mueller said the Department of Fish and Game has been asking her for a plan to stage the festival, currently slated for July 24. Sponsors this year, however, appear more than up to the task, and include Mono Council for the Arts (MCA, Mueller is one of the founders), the Eastern Sierra Fishing Guides Association and Mono County Fisheries Commission.
Mueller said her research revealed that no real marketing has ever previously been done, and thinks that with some strategic outreach, Mammoth and Mono County could stand to at possibly double the nearly 800 kids the event draws each year. Recent surveys indicate that attendance is largely from out of town. Several locals usually participate, and Stroud said the event has a strong second homeowner base.
This year, Mueller said DFG plans to get more involved via its new educational “Fishing in the City” program, which she said will also help market the county to visitors by extension. She also discussed partnerships for donations and other infrastructure support from a variety of fish hatcheries, service clubs and local businesses.
Mueller, who spearheaded the recent “Trail of the Trout” fishing-meets-art campaign, said an arts element would also be a component. MCA plans to have a booth to provide a memento for kids to take home with them. Also included with that will be extra collateral and information on other derbies and events that is designed to drive potential repeat visitation.
And, as is the case more and more, outreach will likely include social media. Watch for a Kids Fishing Festival Facebook page coming soon.
The Commission approved $2,300 to cover various out-of-area advertising buys.