Will Mammoth businesses pledge air service fraternity?
Mammoth Lakes Tourism Director John Urdi updated the Mammoth Lakes Airport Commission on Tuesday regarding the state of air service. Still looking for ways to cover the $150,000 air service subsidy he maintains is a significant drain on MLT’s marketing ability, Urdi outlined some new ideas for revenue generation, including a possible “Tourism” Business Improvement District.
One of three new ideas is setting up a “pledge” program, not unlike the subsidy guarantees approved by Mono County and others. Essentially, businesses could “pledge” various amounts of support, and if air service covers its obligations, the pledge would be rolled over into next season’s guarantees.
A variation on that is a “pledge/benefit” program, which would be the same, but come with tickets, passes or other perks that could be used to attract customers. That, however, would come with more administration to facilitate the benefits part.
The third concept, a tourism-skewed BID, would be enacted by a simple majority of businesses that would make up a proposed BID, including lodging establishments, restaurants and tourism-related segments of the retail community. The “TBID” would likely seek to implement a 1% surcharge rate, amounting to about $1 on every $100. Urdi acknowledged the challenge is getting the lodging partners to add the surcharge to what he said are significant amounts of Transient Occupancy Tax percentages they already pay.
Also talked about in more detail is the idea of expanding parts of the BID outside Mammoth’s town limits. “We are thinking about going countywide with at least lodging,” Urdi suggested. He pitched a sliding scale of percentages, in which Mammoth would be at 1%, but outlying areas would be in for less and less the further away they are from town. Walker and Coleville, for example, would drop to about .25%. Any increase in the percentage would mean the BID would have to be reissued in whole, and Urdi is sticking with 1%, which he thinks should suffice for a very long time.
“We would need the blessing of the Mono County Board of Supervisors,” he added. Any proposed form of BID, however, might need more than that. With the 2010 passage of Prop 26, if the surcharge is considered a “tax,” “fee” or other sort of levy, it could require 2/3 of Mono voters approval. Under the state’s previous rules, many fees, levies, charges and tax revenue allocations could be enacted by a simple majority vote.
Prop 26 was passed to prevent higher state and local taxes from being labeled as “fees” so they could be passed with a simple majority instead of the two-thirds required by law. In some cases it would also prevent local taxes from being enacted without a public vote.
Urdi said the BID Steering Committee, which is currently being organized is probably going to be fairly large and inclusive. “We want 85% buy in, not just 50% plus one,” he said. Urdi expects talks will start in November, but nothing to be brought forward for implementation before March 2013. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is expected to be represented on the Steering Committee, and a force in whether the BID goes forward, Urdi said beyond that it wouldn’t have any bigger seat at the table than anyone else. Can the Town raid the BID funds? Urdi says no, since the BID would be administered through the Eastern Sierra Air Alliance, and wouldn’t be part of a line item in the Town’s budget.