While both the Town of Mammoth Lakes and Mono County approved a $100,000 (each) emergency funding request made by local non-profit IMACA (Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action) a few weeks back, the City of Bishop and Inyo County proved harder sells during their meetings earlier this week.
Inyo County ultimately voted 4-1 to approve $100,000 in emergency funding at its regular meeting Tuesday (Supervisor Roeser voting against).
The City of Bishop punted at its regular meeting Monday, asking for further information, and will have the matter return before Council at its March 28 meeting.
On Tuesday, Supervisors grudgingly approved the request by IMACA and its Executive Director Kate Morley.
As Supervisor Matt Kingsley said, he was ultimately swayed by Ms. Morley, as well as by concern over losing a key component of the social safety net, especially in regard to food.
While Supervisor Rick Pucci said “It’s been a personal honor to work with IMACA for 38 years,” he was a bit steamed that he didn’t know about the organization’s fiscal crisis “until I read it in the paper.”
Supervisor Jennifer Roeser said her constituents want to to see priorities supported which have already been discussed and outlined. Implication being you shouldn’t jump to the front of the line just because you’re in need.
But Inyo County Administrator Leslie Chapman explained that the priorities Roeser alluded to came out of a different budgetary allotment – American Recovery Act funds – while the $100,000 for IMACA would come out of contingency funds dedicated for precisely these types of unforeseen emergencies.
Roeser was nonplussed and voted against the allocation.
Hers was the lone dissenting vote.
Meanwhile, the City of Bishop entertained the matter at its regular meeting Monday.
Kate Morley, Executive Director of IMACA, presented IMACA’s request, and answered questions about IMACA’s current financial status and what it intends to do with any money it receives.
In mid-February, IMACA sent out a letter requesting $100,000 from Inyo County, Mono County, The Town of Mammoth Lakes, and The City of Bishop in order to help keep the organization financially viable.
All entities except for the City of Bishop have pledged funds.
Currently, IMACA delivers food to about 450 families in Mono and Inyo Counties monthly. Of those 450, about 125 reside in Bishop/the Bishop area. This is the largest area per capita serviced by IMACA.
Bishop City Council responded to Morley’s presentation with empathy, but also hesitation and reluctance.
“We are not mean people. We are not trying to nickel and dime anybody. It’s just that our budget cannot be compared with The Town of Mammoth Lakes, Inyo, or Mono County. It cannot be,” said Council member Jose Garcia.
Mayor Karen Schwartz responded: “Since we are smaller, I think that $100,000 is more than we can afford. But I would advocate for at least $25,000 as a reasonable amount to give to IMACA to get through this time and hopefully continue. I feel like they’ve been serving parts of our community that we have not really been serving ourselves. And if the situation happens that IMACA still folds despite us giving them some money, then at least we tried,” she said.
“Is it possible that if the City were to give $25,000 that the money could be earmarked towards certain programs, such as food delivery? So that we can assure the residents of Bishop that we aren’t just throwing money at something without having a solid plan of how it will be used?” asked Interim City Manager Deston Dishon.
Morley responded by saying, “IMACA will happily play by any rules, conditions, parameters, contingencies, whatever you call it, that this Council thinks is appropriate with how the funding is used.”
Garcia pointed out the elephant in the room by asking, “this item is listed as a discussion. Are we going to take action on it, or are we just going to talk about it?”
After talking for a while about how the discussion was useful to have, Dean Pucci finally answered Garcia by saying, “We’re not actually going to be taking a vote given the way that this item has been agendized. But the Council can come to a majority consensus on the direction they would like staff to go in with IMACA moving forward.”
Council member Karen Kong asked about what IMACA’s current financial status specifically was.
“We haven’t zeroed out yet,” responded Morley. “Our bank account is getting dangerously low, but if we had a bill for $20 tomorrow it’s not like we couldn’t pay that bill. But we are seeing that coming down the line, some extra money would really benefit us right now. Both in the short term and in the long term.”
Kong responded: “Well, if you have money coming in from Mono County and Mammoth already, then maybe you should put [Bishop] aside for right now, and if there’s a gap again between billings and reimbursement, then you contact us in order to get to the finish line?”
Kong continued: “There are just too many unknowns right now for me to be comfortable doing this. I have a lot of people asking me, ‘Why don’t they sell their buildings?’ ‘Why don’t they do this, why don’t they do that?’ And I realize that you are juggling 7,000 balls in the air at one time, but for me I’d like to see you juggling less before I feel comfortable giving the money,” she said.
Morley was uncertain about the details of IMACA’s annual budget and just how much money they would truly need to stay afloat. She was unable to break down IMACA’s exact annual budget, but said that they generally have about $4 million in expenses per year. She wasn’t able to say if there is a board that approves the budget, as she only has been Executive Director for 6 months so far and hasn’t reached a new fiscal year yet.
Morley said that by the end of the week, IMACA should have a much better sense of what their specific need is and how fast they can get billing out of the door. “But that still doesn’t mean that we will have a crystal clear timeline for what our financial future will look like,” she said.
“I think that the reality is that, based on how this was agendized, we can’t commit funds at this point. The earliest we could commit any funds would be in 2 weeks time, when we’ll have a much clearer picture of what your outstanding reimbursements would be and what kind of operating budgets you are going to have…. But in general, I think we’re all supportive of some funding, but it’s clear that you’re not getting $100,000 from this city unless something drastically different happens, ” said Council member Stephen Muchovej.
The Council plans to return to the issue in two weeks, where it will be listed as an action item.
“I will speak for myself and say that in two weeks’ time, if you are not more knowledgeable about your finances, I will still support IMACA,” said Schwartz.
She continued: “I think $25,000 is a reasonable number; we’ve helped other organizations in distress and we have the $25,000 in our general fund. I think our constituents would be happy to know that their tax dollars are going to the neediest people who cannot advocate for themselves. I think our constituents would be aghast to learn that we let IMACA go under without doing everything we could in our power to support them.”