Mammoth Lakes Town Council and Mammoth Lakes Tourism held a joint workshop on Wednesday evening to discuss/debate what MLTs direction should be moving forward in the near-term.
The undercurrent: How much money does MLT need to do its job?
It’s a question that Councilmember Sarah Rea asked very bluntly, and a question that her fellow Councilmembers and MLT Board members deftly dodged.
The end result: Status quo.
So let’s frame the debate, which was essentially Rea v. World.
From Rea’s perspective, she thinks MLT has done a tremendous job and made an excellent pandemic pivot toward destination management in 2020, but “Every other week, someone’s telling me they’re getting kicked out of a place,” she said. So why are we dedicating 2.35 points of Transient Occupancy Tax revenue to MLT and marketing every year while Housing receives 0.85 points.
Business owners can’t keep staff, she observed, and the visitor experience is bound to suffer as a result.
She said if it’s assumed visitation will rebound this year and that MLTs primary task will be to manage and educate the hordes, how much money is enough to fulfill that goal?
From the World perspective, redirecting funds away from marketing is a bad idea. Rather, said Board member Michael Ledesma, let’s maintain our marketing budget and ensure we raise revenues, particularly by marketing to fill midweek and shoulder periods. And then dedicate any TOT revenue overage to housing.
And there’s been plenty of TOT revenue overage the past several years.
Almost $29 million in overage from 2015-2016 through 2020-2021. Including a projected $3.8 million in overage for this fiscal year – in a year where the Town saw a $5 million loss in December and January.
*Now we know the Town spent $7 million of this overage to acquire The Parcel. It would be interesting to see an accounting of the rest.
Various MLT Board members acknowledged 2021-2022 would be a bounce-back year. John Mendel thinks it’ll be a $20 million TOT year. MMSA’s Eric Clark said he was “very bullish.” Chamber representative Jeremy Goico said he was not worried about people showing up the next 6-12 months. It’ll be “extremely busy,” he said.
The Town has budgeted TOT revenue at just $14.5 million for 2021-2022. What this effectively means, when the Town floats a lowball number, is that it caps its payouts to NGOs like MLT while it pockets the rest.
MLTs budget for 2021-2022 projects $2.34 million as its share of Town TOT (based on that $14.5 budgeted number) and another $4.79 million in projected TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) revenue.
Mayor Bill Sauser sprinkled plenty of bombastic comments throughout the workshop to keep people entertained.
He said if we cut marketing now and use that money for other purposes, that money “will never find its way back” to marketing.
Essentially acknowledging that government isn’t nimble enough to respond to change of any description.
He also said there were a lot of smiles last year in the Lakes Basin and that none of our visitors were worried about it being too crowded.
Which elicited a comment from Councilman John Wentworth regarding carrying capacity.
Sauser also floated the idea of limiting TOT certificates and perhaps pushing older housing stock into long-term rentals.
Causing John Mendel to caution that it’s probably not a good idea (and hardly fair) to pick and choose winners and tell people what they can and can’t do with their property.
Later, Sauser declared that the Town has spent more on housing than marketing over the past five years. He said this with a straight face.
MLTs cumulative budget over the past five years is approximately $40 million.
The Town has spent approximately $10-11 million over the past five years on housing, if you include the $7 million it spent to acquire The Parcel.
No action was taken at the workshop, and it is unlikely that MLT and/or Town budgets for 2021-2022 will be adjusted.