After running out of time during its previous meeting due to prolonged budget deliberation, the Mammoth Lakes Tourism board reconvened on Monday afternoon to finalize the ‘20-’21 budget and vote on funding distribution.
Part of the reason that MLT’s meeting ran over from last week was due to a conversation about funding air subsidy and domestic marketing during the pandemic. MLT Executive Director John Urdi had originally planned to cut spending on air service subsidies by pausing Denver-to-Mammoth flights while reducing marketing efforts on the East Coast.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area representative Eric Clark opposed the cuts, arguing in favor of continued air service through Denver and marketing in the Northeast. His logic: we have to continue to strengthen travel from those markets, so why stop now?
At Monday’s meeting, Urdi began by going over his logic for the cuts once again. He explained that the reductions in funding mirror a projected revenue reduction for the year ahead, coupled with a projected air travel decline stemming from Covid-19 worries.
Clark had a different view. “Air service is a program that we’ve continually been trying to develop,” he said, “half of the expense of [Mammoth Lakes Tourism] are kind of designated to go into the air service category… 75% of the cuts are actually coming from air service and air service marketing as well.”
“I find that position not to be the direction that the board is going,” Clark added, doubling down on his opposition to the budget cuts. “Flying somebody from Minneapolis or Texas through Denver to Mammoth has proven to be very effective or us and just stating that we’ll get rid of the Denver flight is not what I want to see.” According to Clark, United has made it clear that the Denver-Mammoth route is important to the airline going into Winter 2020-2021.
Board Secretary Jeremy Goico asked Clark whether the Denver route would even be in the cards for the coming winter, adding “In my mind it doesn’t seem like that’s a possibility.”
“It’s not only possible, it’s scheduled,” Clark countered, “We’ll have to go tell our partner that we do not want those flights.”
Board Chair John Morris asked Clark about the exposure that the Mountain receives from the Denver flight. Clark said plenty, adding that Mammoth Mtn. has already sunk more funding into the Denver connection than MLT.
Ultimately, the board directed Urdi to bring the subsidy line up $250,000 to the original $1,151,000 with discussions to come related to the marketing.
The board also discussed MLT’s direct funding of the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce as well as contributions to a small business grant fund. The total ask was $478,000; $200,000 for the grant fund, $278,000 for the Chamber of Commerce.
Urdi argued that allocating this money allowed MLT to further protect its reserves, as the money for both would come from reductions in TBID payments from the town as opposed to deductions from MLT’s reserves.
Board member Lynda Salcido inquired about just how deep the proposed cuts went, asking “Have we really made every single cut that we can before getting into reserves?”
Treasurer Rhonda Duggan agreed, adding “the reserves are there to be spent as long as we show that we’ve gone on and done the cost cutting measures.”
Retail Representative Matt Hammer went further, stating “It doesn’t look like we’ve gone hard enough, that we’ve razored enough things out, that we’re not really cutting hard enough.”
Salcido pointed to two line items that jumped out to her: 1. wages will only drop 1.3% for the next year and 2. Events funding will only see a 4.8% decrease. Meanwhile the marketing department will be cut 30% ($1,759,933), sales will be cut 24.5% ($137,000), and public relations will be reduced by 34.5% ($101,750). See chart at right
Goico pushed back on the prospect of cutting wages. “I firmly believe that we need to protect our staff right now,” he said, “ I don’t think slashing their wages is an appropriate thing to do.”
Caroline Casey defended the special events budget, arguing that her role is almost more vital in the Covid world, as she will oversee the education of event operators on Covid regulations and ensuring that events are operating as safely as possible. Casey also asserted that special events will be key to the region’s economic recovery.
If an event with MLT funding is cancelled, non-refundable expenses must be paid back.
Board members noted another line item, fact-checking, that is currently budgeted for $29,000 dollars.
Marketing Director Matt Gebo explained that the charge is for a firm that continually updates MLT’s website to provide an accurate list of licensed businesses for the Visitor’s Guide. Gebo estimated that doing without using a consultant would take 5 months to complete.
The budget will be formally approved at the board’s July meeting.