FIRE FEES UP IN SMOKE
The Mammoth Lakes Housing Board has struck up a back-alley deal with Mammoth Fire Protection District Fire Chief Ales Tomaier.
Except the back-alley was Suite Z, last Monday, during a regularly scheduled Mammoth Lakes Housing (MLH) board meeting.
Amidst our nation’s political turmoil, it’s comforting to know that compromise can still be reached.
Here’s the situation.
In Mammoth, developers have to pay Fire Development Impact Fees (e.g. it costs x for the fire district to protect your new development).
MLH is developing two projects that are subject to fees. Access Apartments will cost $10,571 in fees. Innsbruck Lodge will run $7,207.50.
Total cost: $17,778.50.
The plan: get Fire Chief Tomaier to waive these fees in exchange for “a possible reciprocity of services,” per the MLH agenda for Nov. 7, 2022.
“Even though $18,000 doesn’t seem like a lot,” said MLH Executive Director Patricia Robertson during Monday’s discussion, “from my perspective, it is another drop in the bucket towards making these projects successful. So, [Fire Chief] Ales and I have been talking about what sort of compromise we could come to in terms of these fees that our developments would owe the fire department.”
The pair “came up with the rough idea of potential fees in lieu of services to help the fire department solve some of its housing issues, which I think is something we have been wanting to do for a long time, and would like to do regardless of whether we had these fees to pay or not,” Robertson said.
The MLH agenda lists “some ideas” for services, which include helping the fire department apply for grants, providing the fire department with “Bridge units (for own or rent), with Town consent, giving “preference for Fire District employees at some rental units, on a temporary/transitional basis (if possible/available?), and providing “property management services for Fire District units and/or employees.”
In exchange for the fees, services would be offered as a “possible one-year agreement” with an option to renew, per the agenda document.
When asked to provide comment, Fire Chief Tomaier said, “In the past, my board has been very hesitant to waive fees, especially when they see something that might have implications for fees in general.”
Read as: in the past, my board has been very hesitant to waive fees unless there was something in it for them. Which, in this case, there is. Those “services.”
Tomaier continued, explaining that the fire district has the “hardest housing situation in the community.”
To be fair, the fire district has a tough job. One that requires staff to live in town so that fire response can be as quick as possible. Not enough housing for the fire district means not enough firefighters in the district, which means increased fire danger.
Of course, local businesses are experiencing the same problem, per Crocetti’s “The Nature of the Beast” in last week’s issue. Not enough housing means not enough employees, which means business struggle, then fail.
Tomaier proposed that the MLH Board help “explore options with us.” He had “no intent to put stress” on the Board and recommended that they “write up an agreement that will be more of a pilot program, for one year” and see if there are some possibilities where he “can leverage some knowledge and expertise that [the MLH] staff has… and do it in a way that our board is comfortable with.”
One Board member expressed that, “The word preference made me pause a little bit. I would be cautious to set a precedent that we would give preferential treatment to various groups to get into affordable housing.”
Robertson explained that, other than coordinated entry systems that prioritize those experiencing homelessness, preference can’t be given for federally and state-funded projects.
“Do we want to own a unit that’s not restricted by those sources,” Robertson continued, “and somehow write up some guidelines that put a preference for fire employees? I don’t know, [that wording] was sort of a jumping off point to think about some creative solutions that we don’t currently have.”
Tomaier responded, saying that one of the things he was looking for were Bridge unites for when housing for his staff falls through. The average area median income for his staff varies, he explained. Some of them are living out of their car. Having MLH’s help finding bridge units, for example, would be a huge resource to the fire district.
“I think we could do something to work together that would justify off-setting the cost that we would otherwise be paying,” said MLH Board Member Tony Perkins.
Whether that be grant programs, help finding Bridge units, lot development plans, or assistance in grant applications remains to be seen.
“I think you have a partner,” concluded MLH Board President Kirk Stapp. “We’re gonna try.”