Mammoth’s Town Council called a special meeting Tuesday evening to hear from the Recreation Commission (which met earlier in the day) and collect any last input from the public, mostly as concerns the Town’s funding of the Whitmore Pool and Ball Field complex.
Rec Commission Chair Bill Sauser discussed a proposed resolution, authored by Bill Taylor, which seeks to address the possible use of Measure R funds to replace or “supplant” money cut from the Whitmore line item in the Town’s budget. Sauser outlined Plan A and Plan B scenarios that could re-tailor Council’s expenditure plan.
Plan A would mean not making all the scheduled paybacks to borrowing and loans from the Vehicle fund, Measure U and the Reserve for Economic Uncertainty. Council would instead divert the $189,000 previously cut from the Town’s 2013/14 budget back into Whitmore to keep an operations person on staff and keep the pool going.
Under Plan B, if Council decides the money really isn’t in the budget and those paybacks must be made, the Town could opt to take the money from Measure R cycles for a maximum of two years, after which the opportunity would sunset. In return, the Town would follow through with completing a Capital Improvements Project plan for trails and recreation.
The Commission prefers Plan A, but indicated that it would also not like to see Council opt to go down that road more than once, and avoid setting a habitual precedent. As opposed to a loan to be paid back by the General Fund, which was widely assumed to be unrealistic by both Commission and Council, Sauser suggested straight up taking the money and apologizing to the public for having to do that.
Nonetheless some Commissioners still have reservations about such a move. “I feel, along with [fellow Commissioner] Sean Turner, that we taxed ourselves [for Measure R], but not to backfill the General Fund,” Commissioner Teri Stehlik said. “Are increased fees and donations out there? Those would be great, but that would be a near term solution, and we have to look at it long term.” Ultimately, she added, $189,000 isn’t an enormous amount of money in the grand scheme of things.
Stehlik also reiterated previous concerns about putting too much money into a facility [the pool] nearing the end of its useful life. Asked by Council member Rick Wood if she things that tapping into R would take away incentives for other private funding, Stehlik said it works both ways, and could also be seen as a means for the Town to pull on heart strings and hit the easy button.
Sauser said the resolution is only a draft at this point, and has yet to be reviewed by Town Attorney Andy Morris. He also said all five commissioners were supportive of the resolution’s intent, even if only tacitly.
“If we’re at the end of the pool’s useful life, maybe this two years is a catalyst to start looking into bonding or how to otherwise work on developing a new pool facility plan,” Mayor Matthew Lehman observed. “It puts the pressure on us to make us think differently … outside the box, which should have been done 10 years ago.” Stehlik added that sentiment applies to other Town-managed facilities also nearing the end of their useful lives.
Measure R champion John Wentworth, who spearheaded successful passage of the tax with voters, said the intention of R was to encourage the Town to meet its obligations to its facilities. “Be creative, think outside the box, don’t push the easy button,” he suggested, “but the conversation I’m hearing is right on point, the one that needs to be had.”
Swim team Coach Lindsay Barksdale, who has more than 90 swimmers on her roster, pointed to sheer numbers, including the 7,023 swimmers who used the pool from May through September this year. She also suggested the town would benefit from swim meets at a new 50-meter pool, some of which attract as many as 800-900 swimmers over three-day stays.
Mammoth Unified School District Superintendent Rich Boccia, who is trying to attract attention to putting in a new pool facility on MUSD property, also stressed the importance of securing the $117,000 match from Mono County to maintain Whitmore’s ball fields, since softball and baseball season practice starts in February.
From the Council dais, Jo Bacon said many of the Town’s future expenditures are based on a 3% projected growth in TOT, and discouraged any perception of any extra revenue. Also, she said the REU currently is at zero, after deducting the $2 million first payment to MLLA due on July 1, 2013, and needs to be replenished.
John Eastman said he was in favor of not tapping R and finding the money elsewhere, and thinks that if the town has a good snow season, extra TOT revenue would be generated as a matter of course. Michael Raimondo agreed with Eastman’s optimism in terms of TOT growth, and liked the idea of having two years to come up with a plan for a new facility.
Lehman said if the town has a better snow season this year, he wants to focus intently on revenue generation. “We have to turn from a $17 million town to a $25 million town,” he posited.
According to Taylor, Rec Commissioners still want to add language to the resolution regarding using any revenues generated at the site to reduce the Measure R commitment. The revised document is expected to go before Council for review during its Dec. 5 meeting.