So a few things that have crystallized (and not) for me this week.
On Measure F … I see an argument on both sides.
On the Fire District’s side, how do you protect a community if your employees and volunteers have an increasingly difficult time being able to make ends meet financially? Firefighters aren’t like cops. They can’t live somewhere else and commute to fires. In that scenario, we wouldn’t be calling them firefighters. We’d be calling them ash samplers.
The second argument for the passage of Measure F – just look at the sheer economics. Raising an extra million dollars to defend billions and billions of dollars worth of assessed property … seems like a drop in the bucket. And the million you spend now could save residents multi-millions of dollars every year in reduced premiums – insurers continue to look ever more closely at California fire risk. Pro-actively addressing that risk is … well, let’s face it. We so rarely pro-actively address anything around here that I appreciate the Fire District’s bid at forward thinking.
On the other side of the ledger …
The District’s revenues have outpaced expenditures by close to $500,000 each of the past two fiscal years according to the “Statement of Activities” from the Independent Auditor’s report.
So critics say, “Hey, if you’re running that kind of surplus, why the heck do you need to soak the taxpayers for more?”
John Mendel is President of the Mammoth Lakes Fire District Board. He said the auditor’s report, taken as an independent snapshot, is misleading. Because the report doesn’t reflect the transfer of that surplus to the capital improvement/vehicle replacement fund.
The Great Recession, followed by drought and a slow recovery in property values, postponed future planning for several years, so the District is playing catch-up.
Another argument against Measure F is more philosophical. And was driven home Wednesday evening when I attended the Council workshop titled, “Town of Mammoth Lakes – Scenario Planning: Community/Destination Strategy Design.”
I know. A mouthful.
In a nutshell, there was another consultant giving another report about the “strategery” (and for that word I am forever grateful Bush 43) the Town should adopt to meet the growing strain on its infrastructure and a perceived decline in local residents quality of life.
Councilman John Wentworth: I see the place becoming “degraded.”
Councilmember Cleland Hoff: Our current path is not sustainable.
And the consultant chimes in that we need to strive for “destination balance.”
The report is full of the usual bromides and flow charts. Nothing in it you’ve never seen before. As Tom Cage quipped, “A consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you what it is.”
So it drives you crazy. Because you’ve got a Council that is terrified TERRIFIED of change. It talks ad nauseam about its goals and priorities, but can’t make dramatic shifts in its budgeting process to adapt quickly enough to profound changes in the status quo.
And then defends itself to the bitter end. “Oh, we’ve dedicated x millions of dollars to housing.”
Really? Well, dedicate more. And accelerate your timelines. And make decisions.
The Lakes Basin is too crowded.
Really? Well, do we limit vehicular traffic to the Basin and invest in transportation to alleviate some of the congestion, or do we just keep parroting Captain Obvious during Council discussions on the topic?
A key, unstated reason the Fire District is touting Measure F has got to be that the District has no faith in the Town of Mammoth Lakes to address its housing crisis in a timely fashion. So they’re trying to do it in their own. The result? We raise taxes on homeowners who then pass the increases onto their renters, making housing MORE unaffordable than it already is, rather than directing funds to an actual increase in supply.
But in terms of “destination balance” … I had an epiphany Wednesday. John Urdi and the Mammoth Lakes Tourism Board are absolutely right. They should be the ones not only in charge of destination marketing but also destination management. Because if we accept the causal relationship between marketing spend and visitation, then MLT has a pretty firm grasp on the spigot. Big snow year and people flowing in? Spend less on marketing and more on management. Lean snow year? Do the reverse.
And what is management composed of? Land stewardship, better transportation, hospitality training. I dunno. Define it and then let ‘em do it – without one more penny to do it with. Which would force efficiency.
Council and staff has lagged on housing, which forced the Fire District to take action.
Don’t lag on the guest experience. Assign the task to the organization best equipped to handle it.
And for godsakes, fire the consultant – the guy … he talked about his report being a “creative” document and just the first iteration of many. Well, of course. More drafts = more commission.