County awards large chunk of change to June Lake community
On Tuesday, the community of June Lake tasted its first moment of sweet success since Mammoth Mountain announced almost two months ago that it would close June Mountain for the 2012/13-winter season.
The moment came when the Mono County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve an allocation of $100,000 from its contingency fund to be immediately handed over to the June Lake community under the direction of the Mono County Tourism Department.
During the discussion, Keep June Mountain Open Coalition member and Double Eagle owner Ralph Lockhart described the funding as a “way to bridge the gap” this winter.
“We met with Carl Williams [June Mountain General Manager] again and it seems that Rusty Gregory has firm plans to reopen June in 2013/14, so we need to bridge the gap,” Lockhart said. He reiterated that it is still the community’s first and foremost goal to reopen June Mountain.
“We have to keep the business community alive this winter because closing down will make it harder to start back up again when the Mountain reopens,” Lockhart said.
He presented the County Supervisors with a list of priorities of how the money allocated by the Supervisors would be spent. It included a shuttle service to get people in June Lake over to Mammoth for work or play, discounted lift tickets for Mammoth Mountain to be included in lodging packages, promotion through a PR firm of other activities available in June Lake such as ice skating and cross country skiing, and the creation of small events that would help pull in crowds.
Lockhart added that the community would also like to see some of the money used in efforts to attract new buyers for the Rodeo Grounds.
“We want to invest for next year and beyond,” he said. “We hope that the money allocation would not just be an aspirin but a bandage large enough to cover the wound.
“We need to ask people who have been coming to June Lake, to come back even though the Mountain will not be open,” Lockhart continued. “We know you want the money spent responsibly, so it should be allocated to Mono County Tourism but they would take advice on how to spend it from the [June Lake] Chamber, the CAC and the community.”
“We need to come up with the story of June Lake for this winter,” said Mono County Economic Development Manager Alicia Vennos. “The door is open with Rusty Gregory and he is open to the three requests I made of him during a recent phone conversation.” The requests were that MMSA provide the shuttle to and from June Lake, that they provide discounted MMSA tickets to June Lake lodging businesses, and that MMSA sell these June Lake lodging packages on its 800 system.
While Gregory was open, Vennos did say that he would like to see the requests for these items come directly from the Board of Supervisors.
In response to Supervisor Hap Hazard’s concerns that the community had already missed the boat for winter promotional materials, Vennos was confident that the task could still be accomplished.
“In an ideal world, yes we would have planned our messaging sooner,” Vennos explained. “But we have social and viral media now, which would be a big push [in this effort]. October is actually the perfect time to get the word out to our shorter drive markets of Southern California and the Bay Area. They just need to know what’s happening next weekend.”
Mono County CAO Jim Arkens weighed in on the financials, explaining to the Board that the books had been closed on the 2011/12 budget and that it was balanced. The Board, however, will not go through its budget discussions for 2012/13 for another two weeks.
“The budget is balanced and there is $1.6 million in reserves plus a cash reserve of $564,000 from last year’s budget,” Arkens explained, adding that there was about $360,000 currently in the contingency fund.
“This is just a snapshot and the Board has not reviewed any of it,” Arkens warned.
The Supervisors, themselves were at first split on when and how much to award to the community.
“I’m looking for more details and a timeline,” Hazard said. “I’m still not hearing how to make it successful. I don’t want to just throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks.”
He added that financial help from MMSA should not be excluded.
“I want to see something happen right now,” said Supervisor Larry Johnston, repeating his mantra of “ready, fire, aim.”
“Saving even five jobs is worth it,” he said. “We can’t wait for every detail to be worked out. I agree that we should leverage MMSA as much as possible.”
“I agree with Hap and think there are a lot of cons with the County meddling in private enterprise,” said Supervisor Tim Hansen. “Other areas are feeling slighted, but if we were to be responsible like we should be, it would be the last knife in your back. I agree that we should we should commit some money with oversight. We’ve got to preserve what’s there.”
Supervisor Byng Hunt felt that the situation was a “crisis in need of immediate action,” while Board Chair Vikki Bauer like the list the community had come up with but felt it needed to be reprioritized with reopening the Mountain and transit at the very top.
But Hazard continued to push to keep things vague.
“If we commit to a dollar amount we close the door to anyone else stepping up to pitch in,” he said. “We should just commit to helping the community and wait for others to commit before we place a dollar amount on it.”
Double Eagle owner Connie Black, however, stated that the community was in a time crunch.
“We are interviewing a PR firm next week, but we can’t move forward without a funding commitment,” Black explained. The group also planned to meet with the Forest Service on Wednesday to discuss potential winter activities on Forest Service lands.
Bauer, with her eye on the long-term picture, asked District 3 Supervisor Elect Tim Alpers to weigh in on the discussion before a final decision was made.
“This is going to outlive me and you’re going to be left with it so let’s act as if we were a Board of six right now,” Bauer said.
Alpers reiterated his idea that June Mountain should be marketed as the number one family destination resort, pointing out that places like Truckee don’t hold a candle to June and yet June Mountain sits closed.
“I encourage the funding, especially with monthly reports to the Board of how it’s being spent,” Alpers said. “Faith is believing in things yet unseen.”
Bauer wanted to break up the $100,000 into chunks for certain items while Hunt wanted to earmark $200,000 to be discussed during upcoming budget talks, but ultimately the Board agreed to allocate the $100,000 now with the expectation that it will receive weekly reports on how the money is being used. The Board will also continue to discuss any future funding for the community during budget talks.
“We’re not going to lose sight of this,” Hazard expressed in response to Hunt’s concerns that the item would be forgotten.
Hansen, agreed. “We don’t need to show our full hand now. This is not going to slip through the cracks.”
The Board also directed staff to compose a letter to Rusty Gregory requesting the aforementioned help for the community of June.
Economic Development Director suggested that in order to make more of an impact, Bauer, as the Board Chair, along with Alpers should hand deliver the letter to Gregory once it is written and approved.