Planning is good. Paralysis by analysis? Not so good. Mammoth Lakes Town Council hopes to avoid the latter as it considers fall Measure R funding applications.
“If we get it wrong, we can go back and fix it,” said Councilman Rick Wood during a Council study session with Mammoth’s Recreation Commission on Wednesday. “What we need right now is an immediate policy to apply to this year’s funding cycle.”
Wood was referring to the 14 applicants that have applied for fall Measure R funding and the need to keep the process moving forward – even though plans to streamline the application process in the future are ongoing.
Of the 14 applications, 10 came from the Town of Mammoth Lakes. The remaining four are from MLTPA (Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access), Mammoth Nordic, High Sierra Striders, and the Eastern Sierra Nordic Ski Association.
Three of the Town’s applications; replacement of playground equipment at Mammoth Creek Park, updating equipment at the Whitmore Pool, and rehabilitation of the Community Center Tennis Court are, according to the Commission, blatant examples of supplanting. i.e. using Measure R to fund projects which should be paid for out of the Town’s General Fund.
The pot of Measure R money available is estimated at $650,000. The requests total more than $2.2 million. The applicants made their presentations to the Recreation Commission this past Tuesday. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26. However, a final decision as to who will be funded hinged on the study session with Town Council.
“The Town’s obligation is to allocate General Funds to things that are important to us,” Wood continued. “Until now we haven’t heard about stuff like the pool pump loudly or strongly enough,” which is why he felt it had not been a priority.
A project priority list will be a major component in moving recreation forward, according to the study session participants. RECSTRATS (the recently released “visioning and implementation” plan for recreation) is suppose to help create this list, which will ultimately help the Town decide which projects to build with Measure R funds and how to float bonds in order to leverage it for more.
“Keep moving forward but don’t bond without priorities,” said Recreation Commission Chair Bill Sauser.
“Measure R in itself is not a lot of money,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jo Bacon. “We had expected $1 million a year but we’re only receiving about $800,000 because of the economy.”
One project that would benefit from a bond is the Whitmore Track, which is currently going through its CEQA process and public comment period (open until Nov. 15). Elaine Smith of the High Sierra Striders explained that if the Town was not going to issue a bond right now, then the project would be looking for commitments over time. “Phasing over time would not be favorable but could be done,” Smith said.
The true elephant in the room was maintenance. While the Council agreed that projects like the three listed that are not legitimately new should be paid for and maintained by the General Fund, it wasn’t so sure about projects that qualify to be paid for by Measure R then being maintained by the Town.
“The dream would be to have the Town maintain everything, but that’s not going to happen this year,” Wood said. For now, all new projects built by Measure R have to be maintained by Measure R as well.
“The Town needs to start that replacement/maintenance fund,” Sauser pressed. “The Town should step up for maintenance so Measure R can continue to build new projects.”
For now, while all of the plans become integrated and ironed out, projects that contain gray areas in relation to what portions should be paid for by R and what portions should be paid for by the Town, will be recommended to Council by the Commission with conditions attached to final approvals.
For example, if the Commission were to approve the completion of the Trails End Park as a Measure R project it could then place a caveat on that recommendation that says it should only be approved if the Town were willing to step up and commit to paying for the maintenance of the park once finished.
“In the ordinance [Measure R] language, the Council would have to reopen the entire process if it does not accept our recommendation as is,” Sauser said.