Funding Whitmore Pool
If the Whitmore Pool is to be fully funded next fiscal year, Mammoth Lakes Town Council decided Wednesday evening that the money would have to come from its General Fund.
Council directed Town staff not to pursue a Measure R funding request for the pool during the upcoming spring funding cycle.
A last-minute addition to a field of 10 Town-proposed projects, the R application for $181,315 would have funded the annual Whitmore recreation area expenditures, including $66,485 for a full-time Parks Maintenance position.
The Town’s restructuring plan calls for elimination of the position, resulting from the $50 million settlement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition and Ballas Entities.
During its mid-year budget review, the Town diverted unused Vehicle Fund money to fund the position through the end of this fiscal year.
Public Works Director Ray Jarvis, sitting in for Recreation Manager Stu Brown, said the application was a backup plan, in case the Town isn’t able to find the money in the budget. Recreation Commissioner Teri Stehlik, however, balked at that thought, calling it “pushing the easy button.”
“There will be no effort to find the money,” she said. “If we let this go through, the money won’t be there.” Councilmember John Eastman reiterated previous objections that Measure R was never meant to backfill General Fund expenses, calling the maintenance position a “core General Fund obligation.”
Mayor Matthew Lehman said he’d prefer to let the Recreation Commission look at it, and either bring it forward to Council or not. Recreation Commissioner Betsy Truax, however, advised Council that the Commission was “surprised” to see it as an eleventh request.
Council ultimately opted to approve moving forward with four requests that drew unanimous favorable early votes from the Recreation Commission: two requests for Ice Rink enhancements, development of a web-based recreation reservation system and a fence for the Whitmore ball fields.
Mayoral faux pas?
In other Council news, Mayor Matthew Lehman had a sort of faux pas moment Wednesday evening, when he voted, along with the previous three Council “Yes” votes, to approve his own reimbursement request. A consent agenda item was to reimburse Lehman $199 in airfare expenses for a trip to San Diego to participate in the city’s recent Half-Marathon, which Lehman called a “sister event” to one scheduled for Mammoth later this year.
Lehman ran the race as a representative of Mammoth Lakes. Councilmember Jo Bacon wondered if, since the appearance was more of a marketing function, Mammoth Lakes Tourism should have covered his airfare instead. Town Attorney Andrew Morris, however, responded that third party entities can’t cover such expenses, and that Council members aren’t allowed to accept “gifts,” which this could constitute.
Mammoth Lakes Contractors Association President Jesse Baldwin and MLCA Board member Tim Flynn expressed more concerns over Council’s decision on Feb. 20 to reinstate permit fees for single-family home construction, as of July 1.
Baldwin and Flynn both pushed the idea of having Council revisit the decision, which Lehman said it would do, though he didn’t indicate a reversal was very likely. Flynn said he thought the decision was “rash,” saying it might have “extinguished a spark [in development] before there was a fire.” Homes, he said are still selling for about $200 per square foot; prospective owners, he added, can’t build for that little.
He suggested increasing fees perhaps 10% annually, “something that’s more in line with the economy.” Bacon pointed out that the move to reinstate the fees was in part made at the request of contractors to fill a vacant permit technician opening at the Town. Flynn replied by pointing out that at least three top-level positions are currently vacant, indicating that there should be money to fund that position already. Impact of the fee reinstatement, he posited, could be as much as 50% of what a home costs now, though he didn’t have exact figures to support that theory.
Flynn and Baldwin both mentioned that only one single-family home permit was pulled in 2012, versus eight in 2009, when the fee reductions were first enacted. Both noted that the number of permits pulled has actually declined, showing the building market needs more time to recover.