Supervisors approve a balanced budget after much debate
To the very end, Mono County Supervisors duked it out on two budget issues: air service subsidy and CARB compliance, but ultimately a $63 million balanced budget for fiscal year 2013/14 was approved 4-1, with Supervisor Larry Johnston voting no.
Things got a little tense when Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director, John Urdi, came before the Board to discuss the air service subsidy. Urdi apologized for not attending the public hearing of the budget process when the air service subsidy was discussed. He said he’d had his hands full with the Mammoth Lakes TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) and had missed the agenda.
Nonetheless, Urdi asked the Board to fund the full subsidy request of $100,000 rather than the $50,000 the Board planned to allocate. Last year the Board allocated $85,000 to the air service subsidy.
The majority of the Board, however, was unconvinced that putting more County money into air service was the way to go.
“Air service has not covered itself in 40 years,” Supervisor Tim Alpers said. “There is a tremendous amount of money going into this. Is air service going to pay off with the amount going into it?”
Supervisor Byng Hunt pointed out that the continuation of the subsidy was inevitable with the expansion at the airport that the Town of Mammoth hopes to see some day.
Supervisor Tim Fesko was upset by the way the County had been invoiced in the previous year for its portion of the subsidy.
“The County expected its money to be used last, but the Finance Department received an invoice for $85,000 last September right after the budget was passed,” Fesko said. “It was a weak invoice with no explanation or justification. It was just a bill from QuickBooks.”
Fesko also added that an email from Urdi made it sound like the loss of the $35,000 would make or break his program.
“If your program can’t work with $50,000 from us, then you have a bad business model,” Fesko said.
Supervisor Fred Stump pointed to County revenues and staffing numbers being down.
“I haven’t received one comment supporting air subsidy since the budget hearings,” Stump said. “I have had many people thanking me for my tactic of a rebate.” During the hearings Stump had suggested that rather than give money to the air service subsidy the County should give the Town a property tax rebate of $50,000.
“Love it or hate it, Mammoth’s property tax drives your General Fund,” Urdi said. “The stronger Mammoth Lakes is, and air service is a big part of it, the stronger the County is.”
“It’s not us versus them,” Fesko said. “But the TBID is bringing Mammoth Lakes Tourism a tremendous amount of money. You are marketing Mammoth, that’s your job. So we need to look at spending every dollar we have on direct impact for the County.”
According to Urdi, MLT spends three times what Mono County Tourism has to spend on promoting the County.
Supervisor Larry Johnston was appalled that his fellow Board members could not see the benefit of air service.
“It’s not a subsidy, it’s an investment,” he said. Johnston connected air service to Digital 395 and the exposure it is expected to bring to the area.
“We talk about tech firms and others wanting to come here, well how do you think these people like to travel? You are biting the hand that feeds you if you don’t subsidize some token amount.”
The Board left the contribution at $50,000.
Johnston also continued to protest the setting aside of $1 million for California Air Resource Board (CARB) vehicle replacement. He supports financing the equipment when needed, instead.
“The $1 million is going to sit there and not grow,” he said. “We are being pennywise and pound foolish.”
His fellow supervisors, however, did not agree, as had been the case throughout the entire budget process, and Johnston was outvoted.
“The $1 million is a good set aside right now,” Fesko said. “It is fiscally sound to have money in the bank.”
“I am frustrated with this budget for many reasons,” concluded Hunt. “But I can live with it.”