Cracking under pressure
Council gets cranky over municipal finance presentation
Wednesday evening’s Council meeting kicked off at 6 p.m., after an earlier Development Agreement workshop with Mammoth View was canceled because more time was needed to digest options presented by Town staff, according to Hector Caldera of Mammoth View.
After slipping into closed session for about a half an hour, Council returned to the dais and heard from Walter Kieser of Economics and Planning Systems (EPS). It was meant to be the final municipal finance workshop with Kieser, who’s goal has been to develop a process that would allow Council and the Town to fund projects in a strategic manner, rather than just choosing from a gigantic wish list. His process is meant to work in conjunction with the RecStrats process, which is identifying the projects that the community would like to see come forward.
Council’s agitation with Kieser’s presentation, however, was evident.
“This is an academic exercise. We are trying to resolve a crippling judgment, so it’s tough to get my head around this. It’s not meaningful,” said Councilmember Rick Wood.
Sensing the Council’s frustration, staff cut Kieser’s presentation short and pushed off the discussion of the Capital Improvement Plan, which was also meant to be part of the presentation. After a five-minute break, Council dove into budget deliberations, which as new Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht pointed out, “is the priority” for the Town right now.
Since last week, the General Fund budget shortfall for 2011/12 has grown from $2.7 million to $2.8 million. This was due to the directive that Council gave staff last week to add an additional $184,000 to pay for the entire cost of the airport sprung structure. Previously, staff had only included $91,000 for the sprung structure because it had assumed the airport partners (Mammoth Mountain and Mono County) would chip in to help pay the cost. Council did not believe this would be the case.
With the new number on the table, staff also introduced yet another new way to evaluate the shortfall and come up with some cuts, giving Council even more tools to make the tough decisions.
Interim Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez, who was clearly annoyed last week when Council rejected approximately $1 million of the budget balancing options she and staff had presented, unveiled the new budget balancing options in tag team with Wilbrecht.
“We are asking that if a Councilmember rejects a line item, then that member has to propose [cutting] something of an equal value,” Marysheva-Martinez said.
She explained that staff still stood by the June 1 budget balancing options.
The June 8 options included reducing staffing levels by $1.2 million.
“Town management strongly believes that reducing staffing levels in any Town department at this point will lead to significant negative impacts,” Marysheva-Martinez said in a prepared statement. She explained that the ideas before Council on Wednesday were purely options, not recommendations from management.
In addition to the new balancing options, staff also presented Council with a means of prioritizing Town services.
“We’re short, so you have to chose where to cut,” Wilbrecht said of the tough decisions before Council.
Management had come up with nine priorities, and then asked each department to fit its budget into these priorities.
The priorities, in no particular order of importance are: Safety, health, risk managment; preservation of assets; maintaining resort status; mandates; contractual obligations; self-supporting; promoting economic growth; prudent financial management; and effective operations.
So, the Recreation Department, for example, was asked to look at this list, and then divvy up its budget to fit into the priorities it deemed appropriate. Departments such as Recreation did not have any part of its budget in safety, health, risk management, but had large portions in maintaining resort status, while other departments such as the police department, have large chunks of its budgets in safety, health, risk management, but nothing in preservation of assets.
After each individual department went through the exercise, Town management then pooled all the departments together to come up with a pie chart demonstrating what the Town is spending in each priority area.
Council was asked on Wednesday to choose the top four or five priorities to focus on as the budget cycle continues.
Since Council had not fully digested the new balancing options, as well as the priorities, it planned to study the new information and then come back to the June 15 meeting for an in depth discussion of the options.
The goal is to have the budget prepared by June 22 so that it can be presented to the public for comment.