In the basement of a brewery full of what Mammoth Lakes Mayor John Wentworth called “thought leaders” (one point for me), Town Council Member Chris Bubser stood at the end of a pool table. Wentworth was off in the corner. Between them, a community conversation presentation on TBID and TOT.
This was Monday night at Mammoth Brewing Co.
On the pool table was a packet of papers, and on the papers were graphs depicting where $49 million unallocated Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue had gone since ‘17-’18.
Note on unallocated TOT: the Town generally adopts a lowball budget. Unallocated TOT = excess revenue left over once the projected budget number has been fulfilled.
$30 million to “Housing Now! Initiatives.” 60% of the *unallocated* TOT revenue.
$13 million to “Infrastructure/Equipment/Facilities.” 27% of TOT revenue.
$6 million to “Community Investment.” 13% of TOT revenue
Getting into the weeds…
60% of the Housing Now! Initiatives funding went to Parcel-related purchases. Land, planning, infrastructure, the project itself. 15% went to Housing Now! Programs, 11% went to the Bridge Program, 9% went to the 4 new units on 60 Joaquin, and 10% went to “MLH Housing Partnership.”
34% of the Community Investment funds went to Child Care Facilities. 35% went to the snow emergency of 2023, and 31% went to COVID related community grants – things like small business grants and rental assistance.
Infrastructure-wise, 8% of the funds went to a public safety radio system, 32% went toward “Public Facilities/Parks/Def Maint/Public Works/Airport, and 20% went into reserves.
TOT makes up 70% of the town’s revenue. The packet’s point: the Town relies on TOT for pretty much every community improvement, whether it be housing or new bus stations or bathrooms.
And where does that TOT come from? Visitation. Nightly stays. “Everything we’ve done comes from TOT,” said Bubser, “and TOT comes from visitors.”
And what brings visitors here?
Bubser pointed toward Mammoth Lakes Tourism (MLT), which is funded by the Tourism Business Improvement District assessment (TBID).
The increased visitation since 2018 (which has led to a doubling of TOT in the past decade, said Bubser) is fueled, mostly, by MLT’s marketing efforts.
Some highlights from and sentiments shared during the community conversation …
The community should stop demonizing MLT. Per Wentworth: if you’re upset, come yell at the Town Council, because the Town Council approves the contract with MLT. The anger at MLT is misdirected. MLT board members present – Jeremy Goico and John Morris – expressed that MLT wants to serve the community, too.
Measure A funds should not be denigrated because of TBID. As in, voters allocated those funds toward Measure A uses, which include marketing, so they should be used as such.
“To take Measure A money away … is foolish,” said Bubser.
The hollowing out of ski-town communities was also mentioned. Fewer lawyers, teachers, doctors … “that’s the reality of these types of communities,” said Wentworth.
John Wentworth, re: Alterra’s marketing as it relates to MLT: “Alterra is an unknown in this thing… How their marketing works is an unknown thing … if we’re gonna make a change, we need to know reliably that that change is going to work.”
Wentworth and Bubser also pointed toward the Tourism Infrastructure Mitigation Program – funded by unallocated TOT revenue – which houses funds that can be put toward community needs.
The Monday meeting was held in anticipation of the TBID renewal vote, which took place Wednesday in Suite Z during Town Council.
Despite pleas for a 10-year TBID term from a handful of community members – the renewal process for TBID is a challenging, time and cost intensive process, said MLT Chair Goico – the Council voted to pass a 5-year TBID renewal.
Council Member Amanda Rice was the only “No” vote.