Broken promises can have serious consequences
Grant awards come with stringent rules and deadlines, but how strictly are these rules enforced by the agency awarding the funding? That’s the question that the Town has been asking itself when it comes to dealing with its ice rink.
This week, Mammoth’s Recreation Commission recommended funding most of the balance of the Mammoth Lakes Ice Rink/Multi-Use Facility with Measure R funds. The body endorsed $154,000 with the contingencies that the Town would have control over the programming of the property, and that maintenance and operation costs going forward would not be paid for with Measure R funds. The Commission also requested that the Town try to renegotiate its lease with the school district, and that the Town try not to use the $40,000 contingency built into the project’s budget.
The Town had asked for $174,000 but the Commission believed labor costs could be reduced by $20,000, which is why it only approved $154,000. The ice rink slab will permanently house the tubing for the ice rink.
The Commission claimed that unlike the Whitmore Pool scenario (see this week’s Town budget story) the slab was a new item and therefore could narrowly avoid the “supplanting” issue, even though plans for the project had been on the books prior to Measure R’s adoption. This project has a completion deadline of March 2012 due to the $500,000 grant that will pay for the majority of the slab.
The grant is a Roberti-Z’berg-Harris – Nonurban Needs Basis Grant from the California State Parks Department. If the Town does not complete the project by the deadline it faces the consequence of having to pay back previous grant monies already invested in the project, on top of the $500,000 it would have to give back to the State.
Giving the money back has been a big concern for the Town. It is afraid its chances of being awarded future grants would be heavily impacted, and it seems, after speaking with employees from the State Parks Department, those fears are justified.
“We’re here to get projects done,” said Patti Keating, Office Chief of Grants and Local Services, California State Parks. “We would definitely take a serious look at a project and a city if the money came back. We are looking at management capacity, and [a lack of] it could lower your point score to where you would get kicked out [of the selection process].”
As for what returning the grant money would mean for future applications from the Town, Keating could only say that her office has to have confidence that projects will be completed.
“Each project and each city is different and we would have to find out what’s going on in each specific case,” she said, admitting that she was not up to speed on what is going on in Mammoth these days. “We would want assurances that it wouldn’t happen again.”
Lawsuit settlements and potential bankruptcy, issues that the Town of Mammoth is currently dealing with, are not very assuring.
“Bankruptcy would not give us confidence that future projects would be completed,” Keating said, adding that she did not believe a city or town had ever applied for a competitive grant after filing for bankruptcy.
“As with any competitive grant, we are looking at how a candidate performs,” added Albert Ventura, State Parks Project Officer for Mono County. “When looking at future applications we would keep in mind that they were not up to par.”
The Town also needs to complete the slab in order to honor the commitment it made when it signed a lease with Mammoth Unified School District to use the property. The Town agreed to operate the property as an ice rink with a roof. The Town failed to even operate an ice rink this past winter due to budget constraints.
“We need to work on improving our reputation,” said Councilman Skip Harvey at Wednesday’s Council meeting when the Recreation Commission’s recommendations were approved. “We need to keep our commitments to the grant and to the school district.”