Council promises plenty of budge in budget
The anticipated budget showdown at the special Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting on Wednesday night didn’t materialize. More than likely, this was due to the sheer volume of budget policy decisions Council tried to address.With so many decisions and so many numbers flying around, it may have been hard for staffers as well as the public to infer what the implications of those decisions might be.
Myself, I think I could boil it down to a Bob Dylan lyric: “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”
Incoming Council member Rick Wood framed it well. “I don’t want anyone’s head,” he began, but he said there has been rage fueled in the community by the end of the Town’s staff furlough program.
During the height of the Great Recession, the Town’s employee unions agreed to accept two work furlough days per month.
This equated to an approximate 10% wage reduction.
Ending the furlough program will mean an additional $1 million expense obligation for 2010-2011.
Which Staff has attempted to characterize as a $500,000 “savings.”
After Town Manager Rob Clark tried to explain how he’d saved $500,000 by spending $1 million, Wood replied, “I’m not sure I could repeat what I just heard [and have anyone understand it].”
As Wood further observed, he doesn’t know of anyplace else giving wage increases at the moment.
He also suggested that the Town needs to fundamentally change its wage structure.
Currently, Mammoth’s bureaucrats use same-city comparisons to justify their astronomical salaries. In other words, if Santa Clara and Berkeley taxeaters make a certain amount of money, our taxeaters should be paid equally.
Otherwise, the theory goes, we will be not be competitive and unable to recruit and retain talent. I mean, how else do you attract folks like former Mammoth Lakes Housing Director Mark Awoldonado to come work here?
Or how do you afford to retain Visitor’s Bureau employees Jimmy Kellett and Jamie Lokan, both of whom rejected offers to transition from Town employment to jobs with Mammoth Lakes Tourism (the Town’s newly minted Destination Marketing Organization.)
Wood suggested that salary and benefits packages for municipal employees also need to be compared to other business sectors within the community.
Individual decisions obviously have significant impact, because if you spend money on one thing, you can’t spend it on something else.
For example, there is debate regarding who should pay for the estimated $370,000 required for commercial air service subsidies next year.
Council member John Eastman believes the subsidy should be paid out of the general fund.
Outgoing Council member Sugimura believes the air subsidy should come out of Measure A dollars (a portion of all room tax receipts are dedicated to marketing). To air is to market.
You get the feeling Eastman’s going to win this battle. “Matthew and myself are two votes,” he said, on his way to counting to three, “And I can find the $370,000.”
As an aside, if you think $370,000 is pricey, Steamboat Springs, Colo. spent $2.4 million this year on commercial air subsidies.
Another decision looms regarding what to do with one-time windfalls from the existing Measure U. The Town expects a $327,000 overage (Expected receipts minus a final debt payment) next year and will have a $577,000 bond returned (funds which have been held in trust to guarantee the bond).
Staff wishes to spread this money around, notably to do a lot of “planning” to ensure the Town is prepared when Goldilocks and her fellow money managers return someday to buy out the Three Bears and their Porridge facility.
Eastman, however., said he’s quite comfortable using these one-time windfalls to restore Town reserve funds.
There’s a reason why Eastman has a framed photo of Ronald Reagan on his office wall. You see, if Eastman finds enough ways to spend money elsewhere and squeeze the general fund (just like Reagan spent money on defense and squeezed social spending), then he can triumphantly shrug his shoulders and say, “Hmm. Looks like we’re gonna have to trim payroll.”
Back to Lokan and Kellett. They apparently were dissatisfied with the contract offers presented by the Mammoth Lakes Tourism board. Word is the contracts were not as generous as what they’ve become accustomed to. Then again, I have no clue how they’ll find jobs which pay anything close to what they were making. To allude to another fairy tale, my guess is we should call them the Little Red Taxeaters. I’m sure their peers within Town government will be watching closely to see whether or not they make it to Grandma’s House intact.
A key thing to watch in 2010-2011 – the Town’s litigation budget. As Clark said, “I think there is some significant legal risk to us in the coming year.”
The decision on the airport litigation is the most obvious, but as Wood said, there’s a chance the Appeals Court will kick it up to the California Supreme Court and “it will start all over.”
Another risk involves former MLPD Sgt. Eric Hugelman’s appeal of his dismissal (after the Rusty’s debacle). If Hugelman wins his appeal, break out the checkbook – that is, unless Eastman’s hidden it under the driver’s mat of Ray Nadwocki’s old Animal Control truck. No one will look there.
By the way, Mike McKenna and I will again be announcing the parade from outside Century 21 and across the street from Nik ‘n Willies on Old Mammoth Road. Our hosts are always gracious and the food and drink, like the tasteless jokes, are plentiful,
Afterward, watch Mac as he participates in the hot dog eating contest at Grumpy’s. Kobayashi he is not. Rather, he’s more like the guy from “Supersize Me” after a supersizing.